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Time to Step Up the Struggle for Marriage Equality — Build a Mass Movement to Defeat the Religious Right

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The battle over same-sex marriage is heating up. Out of the bewildering stream of lawsuits, appeals, and legislative bills that have emerged over the past year, the stage is set for explosive battles in the next period.

The religious right is emboldened by Bush’s election victory and the 11 state ballot initiatives passed last November banning gay marriage, which are being used to block the growing legal momentum to declare laws banning same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

In April, Kansas became the 18th state where voters approved a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Similar proposals will be on the ballot next year in Alabama, Tennessee, and South Dakota, and proposals are pending in 13 other states.

The far-reaching effects of these bans can be seen in Ohio, where the constitutional ban not only stops civil unions and legal recognition for same-sex couples but also for unmarried straight couples. Several judges have ruled that due to the new amendment unmarried people cannot be prosecuted for domestic violence.

This comes against the background of systematic discrimination and oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) people. The majority of states allow LGBT people to be fired for their sexuality, and there is still widespread gay-bashing.

These attacks pose the urgent need to build a powerful movement to combat the poison of the religious right and advance the fight for LGBT rights and full marriage equality.

While the religious right is increasingly emboldened, the reality is that a majority of the country opposes their extreme agenda. This was clearly shown in the Teri Schiavo case (see pg. 5), where a large majority of the public opposed their actions. The same is true for abortion, where a majority supports a women’s right to choose.

There is also growing support for LGBT rights. In 1996, only 27% of Americans supported same-sex marriage, but today 42% say it should be legal. Sixty percent support either gay marriage or civil unions and oppose a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

This is reflected in the host of legal victories over the past few years, and the growing number of states legalizing civil unions. In April, lawmakers made Connecticut the first state to introduce civil unions without being forced to do so by a legal ruling.

Many LGBT leaders, particularly those tied to the Democratic Party, argue that we should confine our struggle to demanding civil unions. The Democrats are supporting civil unions to duck the controversial issue of marriage equality. However, while civil unions are a real step forward, they do not offer the full rights of marriage. We cannot continue to accept second-class treatment. Rather than backing down, now is the time to step up the struggle for full marriage equality!

We can’t rely on corporate politicians or the courts to defend our rights, much less expand them. While we should pursue legal challenges to discriminatory laws, court victories will not be enough if we don’t win the battle for public opinion, as the state constitutional same-sex marriage bans show. Instead, we need to focus on building a powerful movement in the streets, which can change the relationship of forces in society and build public support for LGBT rights.

Such a movement must forge bridges of solidarity with the women’s, civil rights, anti-war, and, crucially, the labor movement. The real agenda of the religious right is to roll back the hard-won gains women and people of color won in the 1960s and 70s, and in doing so divide the working class so we are weaker in the face of attacks by big business.

By clearly explaining that Bush’s right-wing, corporate agenda represents an attack on all working people, and that common struggle against our common enemy will improve rights and conditions for all of us, we can win over working people who are under the influence of the Christian right.

Without this, right-wing demagogues can exploit the growing anger at the deepening economic and social crisis gripping U.S. society by scapegoating gays, “feminazis,” immigrants, and blacks.

The Democratic Party, a party of the ruling class, is incapable of effectively combating this, as the 2004 elections so painfully illustrated. Only by building a powerful mass movement for LGBT rights that is linked to fighting for the common interests of all workers and oppressed peoples (which the Democratic Party completely opposes) can we successfully resist the right and win real gains.

LGBT people are more open and confident than ever – and will not accept a rolling back of the gains won through struggle over the past 40 years. By translating this determination into a powerful mass movement, the religious right can be defeated and LGBT equality won!

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