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The Issue: Same-sex marriage support more vocal, more widespread

By NICOLE DEBEVEC, United Press International   |   April 7, 2013 at 4:24 AM   |   Comments

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Same-sex marriage is garnering new-found, or at least more publicized, acceptance across the United States, cutting across political and philosophical lines as the idea of two people of the same sex in a committed relationship isn't as off-putting as it was, say, a year ago.

A year ago, 15 members of the U.S. Senate backed same-sex marriage. Now it's 50 -- 49 senators plus Joe Biden, who as vice president is Senate president -- who by voting against the Defense of Marriage Act or sought its appeal or flat-out said they support gay marriage, The Washington Post reported recently.

In the past month, nine congressional members, including Sens. Mark Kirk, a Republican from Illinois, and Tom Carper, a Democrat from Delaware, changed their positions on the matter. The relative floodgate of support opened following Ohio's U.S. Sen. Rob Portman -- a man on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's short list of running mates in the 2012 elections -- announcement he supports same-sex marriage, and the Supreme Court arguments on repealing California Proposition 8 that bans same-sex marriage and the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

During oral arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act, several justices wondered aloud whether the act has a constitutional leg to stand on.

Nine states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage and other states are considering it. Twelve states allow some type of civil union or domestic partnership, which offers same-sex couples varying levels of rights comparable to opposite-sex married couples.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll indicated support for gay marriage has gone from about 40 percent in 2004 to nearly 60 percent today.

A March survey taken by Gallup indicated 54 percent of Americans said they would vote for a law that would give marriage benefits to federal government employees who are legally married to a same-sex partner. Results indicated 39 percent said they would vote against it.

A year ago, 64 percent said told Gallup pollsters they thought same-sex relationships between consenting adults should be legal.

And while some folks may be saying same-sex marriage has "won" in all of this, others say that's not exactly the case.

Josh Barro, in his blog on Bloomberg View, said unless the Supreme Court "rules in our favor this summer, we will likely have to spend more than 20 years fighting to repeal provisions in 30 state constitutions before national marriage equality is achieved. Many of us will be dead, or at least old and unmarriageable, before then."

"The more accurate statement is that foes of gay marriage have already lost. Opponents of gay marriage don't just want to deny equal rights to same-sex couples," Barro wrote. "They want to use that denial of rights to establish a social norm that holds out opposite-sex marriage as the right and best way to form a family. But overwhelming elite and [soon] mass opinion in favor of marriage equality have destroyed the norm-setting power of laws against same-sex marriage, even if those laws themselves prove durable."

Even if the Supreme Court invalidates Prop 8, only about 28 percent of the country population will live in states recognizing same-sex marriages, the Post said. If Prop 8 stands, then number shrinks to 16 percent.

Why now?

Public sentiment, for one, The New York Times' Nate Silver wrote in his blog. But at some point, the endorsements will slow down because gay marriage's acceptance has become the majority position nationally, the stragglers have been picked up, a senator opposes it for moral reasons or, for the political reason of worrying about a party primary than a general election.

During speech after speech at the Democratic National Convention last year, speaker after speaker called for an end to discrimination based, among other things, on "who you love."

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told USA Today even though the GOP platform opposes same-sex marriage, supporters of such marriages shouldn't be excluded from the party.

"I don't believe we need to act like Old Testament heretics," he said.

Mike Huckabee, who sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 and is now a commentator on the Fox News Network, warned "evangelicals will take a walk" if the party were to become more accepting of same-sex marriage.

"And it's not because there's an anti-homosexual mood, and nobody's homophobic that I know of," the former Arkansas governor said during an interview with Newsmax, "but many of us, and I consider myself included, base our standards not on the latest Washington Post poll, but on an objective standard, not a subjective standard."

Huckabee said he admires Portman, but said his changed position was subjective. Portman said the change was influenced by conversations with his gay son.

"I think that the mistake is that we sometimes base our public policy decisions on how we feel, how we think, maybe even some personal experiences," the former Arkansas governor said, "and we don't regard a lot of these issues from the standpoint of an objective standard."

Drilling down, the city of Bisbee, Ariz., last week passed a city ordinance that legalizes civil unions, sending shockwaves across the state. The city-only ordinance grants same-sex couples a civil union certificate and allows them some of the rights of married couples, The (Phoenix) Arizona Republic reported.

The ordinance passed on a 3-2 vote, but not before some sometimes nasty debate and a threat of legal action from the state's Republican attorney general.

Supporters called the measure symbolic, the Republic said. Since 1996, Arizona has had a law defining marriage as between one man and one woman. In 2008, voters approved adding language that defined marriage as between a man and a woman in the state Constitution.

While Arizona law does not allow civil unions or domestic partnerships it doesn't ban them either, the Republic said.

The conservative advocacy group Center for Arizona Policy threatened to sue Bisbee over the ordinance.

President Cathi Herrod said the group believes the state's strict definition of same-sex marriage prohibits civil unions and that Bisbee is acting outside of its scope of authority as a subsidiary of the state.

"It's a publicity stunt," Herrod said. "They must need tourism dollars."

State Attorney General Tom Horne also threatened to sue the city.

"While it is our understanding that the city council's intent is that the impact of the ordinance will be limited to the jurisdictional boundaries of the city of Bisbee, the impact goes beyond those boundaries," Horne wrote, referring to the ordinance's reference to life insurance, adoption, property and other areas. "These are areas of statewide concern and exceed the authority and powers of the city of Bisbee to regulate by ordinance."

Drilling further, some organizations known for their opposition to same-sex marriage toned down their opposition, Politico said.

Richard Land, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, told Politico young members of his community aren't interested in vocalizing opposition to same-sex marriage.

"Basically, they just don't think it's something we want to talk about," said Land, who opposes same-sex marriage. "[They say,] 'It feels intolerant. We believe what we believe; they have a right to what they want to believe. Marriage should be a church thing, not a legal thing.'"

College Republicans, too, aren't very vocal on same-sex marriage, one campus organizer said, noting they generally focus more on economic issues.

In 2007-08, 70 percent of Republicans ages 18-29 opposed gay marriage while 25 percent supported it, a study by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found. Pew said it found nearly 40 percent of Republicans in that age group support same-sex marriage in a recently released poll.

"Clearly it's all Americans in a certain age bandwidth," Fred Sainz, a Human Rights Campaign spokesman, told Politico. "So among Republican youth ... it's not an issue they spend an awful lot of time thinking about. So for us, the issue, it's really become, at least among that generation, of 'when,' not 'if.'"

"There's a ton of momentum right now," said Tyler Deaton, the campaign manager for Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry, the GOP-friendly unit of the Freedom to Marry coalition, which supports gay marriage.

"We've always believed this is the right thing to do, the moral thing to do," Deaton told Politico, "and now it's becoming the politically smart thing to do. Republicans have the opportunity to be on the right side of history and public opinion.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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