Across the country, same-sex marriage boosters are celebrating a banner week in what they see as a struggle for civil rights. "We've shown that truth and fairness and justice and love are more powerful than one man's veto pen," said Beth Robinson, chairwoman of the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force, who sat at the rear of the Vermont statehouse on April 7 and wiped away tears as lawmakers overrode by the thinnest possible margin (100-49) a gubernatorial veto of a bill legalizing same-sex marriage.
On the same day, the Washington, D.C., city council voted to recognize homosexual unions solemnized in other states. Council member David Catania, who is homosexual, told reporters the vote was part of "the march towards human rights and equality."
Alan Chambers believes just the opposite: that the new gay marriage bonanza is a trap.
"My major concern is that homosexuality is a counterfeit of what God intended us to experience in human sexuality," said Chambers, president of Exodus International and a former homosexual who left the lifestyle 17 years ago. "There will be young people who are like I used to be, who will see homosexuality as their only option for happiness and relationship fulfillment. [Normalizing] gay marriage is a stumbling block for them. A lot of people look at this from a policy perspective. But I think of all of those hearts that are searching for something legitimate in a way that's absolutely not able to meet their needs."
If politics were a horse race, gay activists just hit the trifecta-and may be poised to sweep the whole race: Over five calendar days, three different government bodies-a high court, a legislature, and a city council-affirmed same-sex marriage.
Vermont lawmakers broke new ground, becoming the first to legalize gay marriage by legislative action. The D.C. council, unable to legalize such unions outright because Congress must approve laws in the district, still stretched as far as it could. Those two actions came on the heels of the Iowa Supreme Court's April 3 decision nullifying that state's ban on gay marriage.
Now, bills to allow same-sex marriage are pending in New Hampshire, Maine, New York, and New Jersey. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking toward a bellwether decision in California. There, the state Supreme Court on March 5 heard oral arguments for and against Proposition 8, a ballot measure that amended the California constitution to recognize only marriage between a man and a woman. The court has said it will rule by early June.
Will the legalization of gay marriage in other jurisdictions create a domino effect in California?
It shouldn't, said Alliance Defense Fund attorney Jim Campbell. "The California decision really involves the right of the people to enact constitutional amendments in their state," Campbell said. "While it involves the definition of marriage, the legal issue is very distinct from what we saw in Iowa, Vermont and D.C."
Specifically, Campbell said, Vermont's law affirming same-sex marriage carries no weight in the debate over whether Prop 8 was a valid constitutional amendment instead of a "constitutional revision," as gay marriage proponents claim. Neither does the Iowa argument that the prohibition on same-sex marriage violated the state constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law.
"We anticipate no impact," Campbell said. "That's what we're expecting and that's what we hope we'll see."
Policy-wise, though, the impact of the same-sex marriage boom is more far-reaching than it may appear. As gay activists incrementally shatter their final barrier between deviance and "normal," government bodies are institutionalizing viewpoint discrimination against employees who still object to homosexuality on moral grounds. For example, University of Toledo employee Crystal Dixon, an African-American, was fired in 2008 after she wrote a newspaper op-ed questioning whether homosexuality is a civil-rights issue.
Also last year, counselor Marcia Walden was fired from her position as a contractor with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention after she referred to another counselor a woman who wanted help restoring a lesbian relationship.
As more jurisdictions legalize same-sex marriage, pressure is likely to mount on the federal government to eliminate "discrimination" against same-sex couples. Take homosexuals serving in the military, for example: Couples who enjoy the rights and benefits of marriage in their home states but are shut out of military benefits for married couples, such as family housing and comprehensive health insurance, may sue.
And while federal courts have historically held to the doctrine of "deference"-that is, deferring to Congress and the president in the setting of Pentagon policy-"those precedents have been eroded in recent years," said Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness in Livonia, Mich. Donnelly noted the effect on armed forces leaders of the recent high court ruling proscribing tactics used by the military to interrogate prisoners: "It was, 'You have to do what we, the court, say.' At this point, I think almost anything is possible."
Already, there is a move afoot to repeal Section 654, Title 10, U.S.C., a 1993 statute stating that homosexuals are not eligible to serve in the military. Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., and 137 Democratic co-sponsors on March 3 introduced H.R. 1283, a measure that would "enhance the readiness of the Armed Forces by replacing the current policy concerning homosexuality in the Armed Forces . . . with a policy of nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation."
On March 31, more than 1,000 retired general and flag officers presented a letter to Congress, the Pentagon, and the White House stating their support for the 1993 law. Signatories included 47 four-star officers from all branches of the service. Among them are a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, several service chiefs, numerous combatant and allied forces commanders, and a Medal of Honor recipient.
"There's already been speculation that if the 1993 law is repealed, the only thing that would really prevent the recognition of same-sex couples in the military would be the federal DOMA [Defense of Marriage Act] law, and there would even be pressure to try to get around that," Donnelly said.
Just as a critical mass of jurisdictions with legal gay marriage could create pressure on the military, a Pentagon policy change could sweep away remaining resistance to gay marriage in the states, Donnelly said: "I would predict that if our military accommodated same-sex couples, it would put pressure on all institutions of civilian life. If it's OK for the Marine Corps, for example, why would it not be OK for every school district, every marriage bureau? The pressure would be very intense."
-with reporting by Emily Belz