Press

Anti-Gay Marriage Bill Defeated For Second Time In South Dakota

Date: 
January 24, 1996

In the latest skirmish on the marriage front, the South Dakota legislature today struck down a bill that would have banned the recognition of same-gender marriages. House Bill 1143 was defeated in the House State Affairs committee after a "do pass" vote of 7 "no" and 6 "yes." The bill was then tabled. The bill would have mandated that only a man and woman could be married and would have ostensibly prohibited same-gender marriage and the recognition of such unions allowed in other states.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Roger Hunt (R-Brandon) and others, was the second time the state legislature defeated an anti-gay marriage law. A similar measure was defeated last year. Hunt had claimed the new bill was needed to "protect families" and stop rising insurance rates that would result if gay couples could be married.

Free Americans Creating Equal Status (FACES) of South Dakota, the new state- wide gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender advocacy group, played a leading role in arranging testimony and educating legislators and the press about the bill. FACES and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) sponsored a 10- day National Coming Out Week tour of the state last October to increase visibility of the gay community in South Dakota and challenge anti-gay legislation. NGLTF also assisted FACES with its media and legislative strategy for defeating the measure.

"Rep. Hunt tried and failed to get the legislature to spend its valuable time creating legal barriers against couples who might win their freedom to marry in the future in some other state," said Barry Wick, president of FACES. "Marriage is an important personal choice to be made by the couple and not interfered with by the government. If legislators are truly concerned about access to affordable health insurance, they should not scapegoat gays and people with AIDS who pay taxes, own homes, build families and contribute to our community."

Currently, same-gender marriages are not recognized in any state in the U.S.

However, the Hawaii state supreme court is expected to rule this year on a gay marriage case. If the ruling if positive, legal analysts anticipate gay and lesbian couples travelling to Hawaii from other states to be married.

"Whether it's the rapidly emerging issue of gay marriage, or discrimination, or violence, gays in small-town America are courageously coming out and asserting their right to live free of state-sanctioned prejudice," said NGLTF field organizer and media director Robert Bray, who toured the state and conducted trainings for South Dakota activists. "Rural gays, lesbians and bisexuals are becoming more visible than ever. They are successfully fighting the backlash to their new-found visibility and political power."

Keith Elston, executive director of the ACLU of the Dakotas, which assisted with lobbying to defeat the measure, heralded the victory and said, "Lawmakers are realizing that anti-gay legislation is bad for our economy, bad for the state's image, and bad for all citizens, not just gay, lesbian and bisexual people."

Local activists and lobbyists credited several factors for the defeat of the bill, including the new-found visibility of gay people and their supporters in the highly rural state, the potential economic impact of costly lawsuits and other legal expenses paid for by taxpayers if the bill passed, and the fact that same-gender marriages are already not recognized in South Dakota, making the bill wasteful and unnecessary. In addition, apparently more than one gay- supportive lawmaker who have gay or lesbian children came forward to oppose the measure.

Unfortunately, trouble still brews in South Dakota as the legislature is considering a mandatory HIV testing bill for people arrested for particular crimes, including sex assaults, and an anti-affirmative action bill.

Still, today's victory was savored by the fledgling gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community of South Dakota. Local gay activist Barry Wick, great grandson of former state governor Carl Gunderson, testified at a hearing for the bill and had come out of the closet to state media during last year's battle. This morning he could be heard proclaming in the halls of the capital building in Pierre, "We Won! We Did It!"

To receive a copy of the NGLTF's "To Have and To Hold: Organizing for Our Right to Marry" action kit, contact NGLTF at (202)332-6483, ext 3327.

For more information on the bill:

contact FACES of South Dakota, Barry Wick, at (605)343-5577; or the ACLU of the Dakotas, Keith Elston (N. Dakota), (701)255-4727.

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The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.