Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Confused Conservatives: The GOP Can't Seem to Make Up Its Mind about the Proposed Constitutional Amendment to Ban Gay Marriage, and That, in the End, Might Be What Kills the Idea

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Confused Conservatives: The GOP Can't Seem to Make Up Its Mind about the Proposed Constitutional Amendment to Ban Gay Marriage, and That, in the End, Might Be What Kills the Idea

Article excerpt

George Allen is no friend of same-sex couples or gay rights. As Virginia governor in 1996, he backed regulations denying state-financed mortgages to people not part of a legally defined "family," including gay couples (rescinded only this July by successors). And in 2000 he sailed to election as a U.S. senator in part by bailing incumbent Chuck Robb, a stalwart gay rights advocate, for voting "like he's from Vermont," a thinly veiled reference to that state's civil unions law. During his stint in Congress so far, Allen has refused to support a single binding gay rights measure.

Yet Allen, chairman of the powerful National Republican Senatorial Committee, has been reluctant to sign on to the proposed "federal marriage amendment," which would add a ban on same-sex marriage to the U.S. Constitution. Citing the language of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, which says that marriage is defined as being between a man and woman only, he told Virginia's Richmond Times-Dispatch, that "we will consider a number of options to preserve the traditional institution of marriage." The Defense of Marriage Act itself "allows states to reject marriage licenses granted to same-sex couples in other states.

Were Allen to decline to support the constitutional amendment altogether, it would be a critical blow to the measure's supporters, who already face daunting odds. Polls show that a majority of Americans oppose same-sex marriage, but backers of the amendment must win two thirds of the vote in each house of Congress--67 votes in the Senate and 290 in the House of Representatives--as well as majority support in three quarters of the state legislatures.

Allen's cautious approach is just one of several potential weaknesses, both ideological and political, that gay activists will try to exploit in their efforts to derail the antigay amendment, which would make equal marriage rights out of reach for at least another generation.

Given the depth of opposition to same-sex marriage, pro-gay "opponents [of the amendment] can't just take a single approach," says Karlyn Bowman a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, a Washington, D.C., think tank that in May published a report on American attitudes toward same-sex relationships. "They are going to have to play on every, single argument in the conservative movement in order to derail this amendment. You can't just target one group; you have to try to make a dent in all of them. This will help run out the clock, historically the best way to defeat amendments."

That's exactly what Charles Francis, chairman of the gay-straight political alliance Republican Unity Coalition, hopes will happen. "Them are all kinds of fault lines out there," Francis says about the disagreement among conservatives. "There are those who are against gay marriage but also against the amendment. There are those who are opposed to marriage but in favor of civil unions and against the amendment. We will make the case to anyone who'll listen."

Perhaps the most potent argument against the amendment is the long-term political ramifications of a nationwide antigay campaign that the amendment battle is likely to become. "Passing this amendment would be a disaster of epic proportions for the GOP," Francis says. "It would do for the support of gays in the party what the support for [California's 1994 anti-illegal immigrant ballot measure] did for Latinos in the party. …

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