Tug of War Intensifies on Gay-Marriage Issue ; Even as Bans and Limits on Same-Sex Unions Spread, Some States Edge toward Civil Unions and Antidiscrimination Laws

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When the Oregon Supreme Court recently ruled that county officials could not decide on their own to legalize same-sex marriages, Tom Potter said he was "especially saddened" for his daughter Katie, her partner Pam Moen, and their two little girls. "Now, I wonder, who will protect Katie and her family?" he asked.

It was a personal lament, putting faces and hearts to a controversial issue. But it also had very clear public and highly political overtones. Mr. Potter is the mayor of Portland, Ore., and the city's former police chief. Ms. Potter and Ms. Moen are both police officers, and they were among the nearly 3,000 gay Oregon couples whose marriages had just been declared illegal.

Six months after voters around the country overwhelmingly rejected same-sex marriage, how to officially treat such couples continues to roil the political waters.

Connecticut recently joined Vermont in legalizing "civil unions," officially recognized bonds designed to afford the same legal protections, rights, and responsibilities as marriage. Oregon soon could become the third such state, as well as joining the seven other states already prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, employment, public accommodation, education, and public services.

Issues involving homosexual couples are spreading across the country in other ways as well. The Catholic Action League of Massachusetts has asked the state's highest court to keep same-sex couples from marrying until voters get a chance to decide the issue. Following a 2003 ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court, about 5,000 same-sex couples have gotten married in the Bay State, some traveling from other parts of the country.

Officials in the District of Columbia have been considering whether to allow same-sex couples married in Massachusetts to file joint tax returns. Joe Shirley, the president of the Navajo Nation, just vetoed a unanimous Tribal Council action defining marriage as between a man and a woman. "We have more important issues to address," Mr. Shirley said, referring to domestic violence, sexual assault, and gangs on the Navajo Reservation.

Other recent moves signal a backlash or at least backpedaling on same-sex unions. In Washington State, software giant Microsoft (one of the first companies to provide domestic partner benefits, or to include sexual identity in its antidiscrimination policies) recently announced that it would take a neutral position on legislation that would outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. Microsoft officials denied that the company, which previously had supported the bill, was responding to pressure from conservative clergy.

In Texas, the House of Representatives recently voted to ban lesbians, gays, and bisexuals from being foster parents. …

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