EATTLE, July 5 — Spurred on by the
Supreme Court's landmark ruling decriminalizing gay sexual conduct,
both sides in the debate over gay rights are vowing an intense
state-by-state fight over deeply polarizing questions, foremost
among them whether gays should be allowed to marry.
Even with most legislatures out of session until early next year,
lively debates are already taking shape across the country, from
Hawaii to Connecticut, Oregon to Alabama to Massachusetts.
Potentially fierce battles over marriage and other rights loom in
dozens of statehouses and state courts, as social conservatives —
including the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist of Tennessee — try
to breathe new life into a proposed constitutional amendment that
would effectively ban gay marriage.
In dozens of interviews this week, activists, pundits on both
sides and legal scholars from across the political spectrum said
that with the Supreme Court's June 26 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas,
the country was now at a revolutionary moment akin to the aftermath
of the court decisions in Brown v. the Board of Education, which
banned school segregation, and Roe v. Wade, which legalized
"The right wing is really galvanized by this, throwing down the
barricades," said William Rubenstein, a law professor at the
University of California at Los Angeles and the faculty chairman of
the Williams project on sexual orientation law.
At the same time, he said, "Gay rights activists are excited and
want to go the next step. On the one hand the Lawrence decision
gives advocates an enormous weapon in their arsenal, and at the same
time it will mobilize opponents of same-sex marriage in ways we
Most agreed that the question of whether the United States will
allow gays to marry would become the next major focus of both the
gay rights movement and of social conservatives, now that the
Supreme Court has decriminalized gay sexual conduct, effectively
removing what has been used by many states as the basis for
discrimination on a wide array of civil rights questions.
A decision last month by Ontario, Canada, to extend marriage
rights to same-sex couples, which is expected to go into effect for
the whole country by the end of the year and make Canada the third
country after the Netherlands and Belgium to allow gays to marry, is
also bound to put the gay marriage question on the political front
"America has hit a tipping point in which fair-minded people now
support equality and inclusion for gay people and most Americans are
ready to accept marriage," said Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry, an
advocacy group in New York.
"We are in a Brown v. Board of Education moment right now," Mr.
Wolfson said. "The Supreme Court has said in the strongest possible
terms that love and intimacy and family have deep constitutional
protection for all Americans and that gay people have an equal right
to participate. This gives us a tremendous tool for moving forward
to end the discrimination."
"At the same time," he added, "it is important to remember what
came after Brown: major legal challenges and acts of courage but
also fierce resistance."
Glenn Stanton, senior analyst for marriage and sexuality at Focus
on the Family, a national organization opposed to gay rights, agreed
there would be resistance.
"I think that what will happen is that states will be seeking to
say, `You know what? Don't bring any of that stuff here,' " he said.
"We know what we want, we know what marriage is, and we know what
sexual relationships are. They will be asking how they can protect
life as they know it, rather than life as the Supreme Court tells
them it's going to be."
State gay rights organizations and social conservative groups are
preparing for legislative and court fights.
"These are the first shots in the largest battle in the culture
wars since Roe v. Wade," said Brian Brown, executive director of the
Family Institute of Connecticut, a conservative group. "The people
of Connecticut are not going to stand for this."
He added, "Politicians in Connecticut will have nowhere to hide.
You'll have to choose a side. Either you support traditional
marriage or you radically redefine it, it's as simple as that."