Fri, Nov 21, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Anti-gay groups fume over judgment

'BLESSING IN DISGUISE' Conservative groups hostile to gay interests say the Massachusetts court's decision legalizing gay marriage will only strengthen their cause

REUTERS , WASHINGTON

Mike Holland, left, and his partner, Jim Gatteau, drape themselves with an American flag during a rally supporting gay marriage on Tuesday in San Francisco, California.

PHOTO: AFP

Conservative religious and pro-family groups rallied on Wednesday against a Massachusetts ruling backing gay marriage, promising to make it the first shot in a cultural battle likely to extend into the 2004 campaign.

Conservative talk shows and Web sites buzzed with attacks on the Supreme Judicial Court's decision, and grass-roots activists vowed to make a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage into a political litmus test next year.

"It is a blessing in disguise," Reverend Louis Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, said of the court decision. "It is going to awaken a lot of people who have never participated in any form of activism."

The Massachusetts state court ruled 4-3 on Tuesday that prohibiting marriage for gays and lesbians was a violation of the state Constitution and gave the state 180 days to bring its marriage laws into line with the ruling.

The ruling, which followed the US Supreme Court's June decision declaring Texas anti-sodomy statutes unconstitutional, was a huge victory for gay rights groups.

Donald Wildmon, chairman of the American Family Association, said it had energized conservative activists to a degree not seen since the 1973 Roe versus Wade court decision legalizing abortion.

"This is probably the best thing that could have happened," Wildmon said. "Every major pro-family group in the country is cooperating with each other now."

But while an energized conservative and religious base could boost President George W. Bush next year, it also could pose a challenge for a candidate who went out of his way in 2000 to avoid heated social rhetoric.

Bush called marriage "a sacred institution between man and woman" on Tuesday, but stopped short of endorsing the Republican-sponsored constitutional amendment awaiting possible action in the House of Representatives.

"There is an intense and deep division in the White House on this issue, to an extent I haven't seen before," said Patrick Guerriero, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, the gay Republican group.

The Log Cabin Republicans are lobbying Bush not to rush into support for the amendment, he said, but the White House is still evaluating how the issue would effect him in the 13 states he won by less than five percentage points in 2000.

"If we put too much energy into this, it sucks all the energy from taxes and from the war on terror and our broader message," Guerriero said.

It also would ally the White House with conservative grass-roots groups who "finally have the social wedge issue they have been looking for since Roe versus Wade," he said.

Democrats have circled the issue just as warily. All of the top Democratic candidates for the White House have refused to support gay marriage, preferring to endorse civil unions that provide the same benefits as marriage.

A poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that opposition to gay marriage has increased since the summer -- from 53 percent to 59 percent -- and a narrow majority, 51 percent, also oppose legal agreements for homosexuals that provide the same benefits as marriage.

Democrats are keenly aware that Republicans would like to use the issue to label them as out of step with American family values.

"We must also reach out to those individuals who will try to exploit this decision to further divide our nation, and ask them to refrain from that effort," Senator John Edwards said after the court decision.

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