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Debate over gay rights hits local level.

The November elections of 1992 marked victory and defeat for advocates and opponents of gay rights.

Both sides believe the debate over gay rights will be a long-term struggle. Recent evidence suggests, moreover, that the struggle will be one which exists at all levels of government and in communities of all sizes.

The most highly visible and recent examples of the gay rights debate occurred in Colorado where voters passed Amendment 2, a measure prohibiting homosexuals from claiming discrimination or minority status, and in Oregon where voters rejected an amendment that would have required public schools to teach that homosexuality is "abnormal, wrong, and perverse."

Cities across the country have been involved in the debate as well. Over the past two years, cities including Seattle, Phoenix, Louisville, Kansas City, St. Petersburg, Cincinnati, St. Paul, and Pittsburgh have wrestled with the issue of gay nights.

Leaders on both sides agree that the debate is far from being settled. The debate has intensified since November in both Oregon and Colorado. Additionally, groups in Michigan, Idaho, California, and Washington have since proposed Colorado-style initiatives for their states, and gay rights groups have vowed to oppose these measures.

According to Arthur Kropp, president of People for the American Way, "the Religious Right will make sure that this issue does not go away ... (what) we're seeing in Oregon and Colorado is just the opening saivo of an all-out assault that will escalate for the rest of the decade."

A spokeswoman for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force agrees.

Accordingly, she states that the issue is one that "will be on the public agenda for some time ... the battle will be intensified at the state and local level throughout the next ten years."

Those who oppose the concept of gay rights concur. A D.C. spokeswoman for the Traditional Values Coalition believes that the issue of gay rights will not quickly disappear: "In the 1980s, the focal point of the debate was abortion ... homosexual rights wiu be the big push button issue of the nineties."

According to a spokesperson with the Traditional Values Coalition, "the issue of gay rights is not restricted to large metropolitan areas ... (increasingly) we are seeing the movement talking hold in rural counties and small towns across the country ... the Traditional Values Coalition has been involved in opposing gay rights activists in localities in upstate New York and northern Michigan."

Gay rights demonstrations in Helena, Mont.; Boise, Idaho; and Columbia, S.C. and recent battles over gay rights ordinances in cities such as Harrisburg, Pa.; Ames, Iowa; Burlington, Vt.; Springfield, Ore. and Portland, Maine support this conclusion.

In response to their defeat last November, the Oregon Citizens Alliance has targeted 24 cities and towns and eight counties throughout the state for similar measures. The Oregon "Fight the Right in '93" effort, sponsored by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, is working to oppose the efforts of the Alliance.

In presenting their arguments to the public and to civic leaders, gay rights opponents, pose the question as one of "special rights" or "protected status" for homosexuals. Tom Scott, state director of Florida's Christian Coalition, believes that, although the Coalition is opposed to the "gay lifestyle, we are primarily against the granting of protected status to gays, or any other group of people. We feel that the Constitution provides homosexuals with all of the protection they need."

David Nelson, the Coalition director in Colorado, agrees: "the idea of fundamental rights for homosexuals is fundamentally bad... umpteen minority groups exists in this country which have not been granted special rights."

Gay righs advocates see the argument in a different light. They believe that their opponents' use of the "special rights" appeal is illusory. In contrast, they frame the debate in terms of "equal rights." Since the passage of Amendment 2, the pro-gay rights group, Equality Colorado, has been speaking to Colorado voters, business leaders, and local politicians about the issue of gay rights. According to a spokesman for the group, "we are not seeking special rights for homosexuals ... we simply want to ensure basic rights such as owning property, holding a job, and being allowed to raise children."

Robin Kane, of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Washington, agrees: "The idea of |special rights' is central to the rhetoric of right-wing groups ... we want to get across the idea that there is nothing 'special' about wanting to get and keep an apartment or job. The gay community truly wants equal rights."
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Author:Eddins, Kevin
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Mar 8, 1993
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