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The armchair activist: a new feature in which The Advocate focuses on one battle for equality, summarizes recent progress, and explains how you can make a difference.

THE ISSUE: MARRIAGE EQUALITY

Both the New York court of appeals--the state's highest court--and the Washington State supreme court ruled in favor of their states' discriminatory marriage laws this summer.

OLD STRATEGY

Convince courts that state constitutional bans on discrimination overrule laws that limit marriage to opposite-sex couples.

It worked in Massachusetts in 2003, but courts in New York and Washington State narrowly sided with a "marriage for procreation" argument. "They came up with this bizarre decision," says Aliya Shain, 18, the daughter of 24-year partners Jo-Ann Shain, 53, and Mary Jo Kennedy, 51, who were among the five same-sex couples serving as plaintiffs in the New York case. "They were talking about 'accidental procreation.' As a kid who has lived with [same-sex] parents, I didn't understand how the court could say [that marriage discrimination is] for the kids' sake. It seemed juvenile."

NEW STRATEGY

Pass marriage equality laws through state legislatures.

Judges in both the New York and Washington cases, in their written opinions, advised the plaintiffs to take their fight to state lawmakers. "That was uplifting," says Kennedy. "We felt anger at the court's decision. But we also felt energized to bring this fight to the legislature."

THE BATTLEGROUNDS

CALIFORNIA

The California legislature passed a marriage equality bill last year that was vetoed by Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The governor's Democratic opponent in November's election, Phil Angelides, has said he would sign the marriage bill into law if elected. "Electing Phil Angelides is Equality California PAC's top priority," says Geoffrey Kors, executive director of the state's gay rights lobbying group Equality California. "California deserves a governor who will not play politics with our lives and is committed to equality under the law." Get involved: EQCA.org

NEW YORK

No marriage equality bill has yet come up for a vote, but activists from the Empire State Pride Agenda have been laying the groundwork for at least three years, including lobbying lawmakers and reaching out to labor unions. They've also trained more than 175 local activists to rally voter support across the state. "Whether we won [the court] decision or not, it is still the same game plan," says Alan Van Capelle, ESPA's executive director. Van Capelle and others think a marriage bill has a real shot in New York. The state's Democratic attorney general, Eliot Spitzer--considered the front-runner in the November gubernatorial election--has said he supports full marriage equality. "There is no reason why this won't happen next year," Van Capelle says. "We're going to make sure the legislature is accountable to doing something." Get involved: PrideAgenda.org

WASHINGTON

No marriage equality bill has yet come up for a vote, but the legislature did pass an LGBT nondiscrimination bill in January.

That win, combined with the court setback, strengthened the resolve of the state's LGBT activists to pass marriage equality in the statehouse. "We're focused now on electing fair-minded legislators," says Josh Friedes, programs director for Equal Rights Washington. "We now know we have to play in elections in a way we have not before." ERW is building up its legislative PAC and working to help elect pro-equality candidates and to protect the seats of legislators who voted for the nondiscrimination bill. "These are very exciting times in Washington," Friedes says. "I don't think people should be discouraged. The bottom line is we are much further ahead than if we had not had this lawsuit."

Get involved: EqualRightsWashington.org

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Taking the next step toward marriage equality starts with getting involved in this November's election.

1. Volunteer. Even if you live outside these three battleground states, there's work to be done--particularly since antiequality activists are organized nationwide. Contact your state gay rights group to learn how to get out the pro-equality vote in your community: Staff a phone bank, canvass a neighborhood, raise money, contact local media.

2. Talk to family and friends. They need to hear what it's like to live without equal rights and how their votes may harm you and your family for years to come.

3. Donate. Dollars often make the difference in battles across the country, as the antigay religious right well knows. Support both local activist groups and pro-equality politicians.

4. Additional activist links:

Human Rights Campaign: HRC.org

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force:

TheTaskForce.org

Marriage Equality: MarriageEquality.org

MODEL ACTIVISTS

Jo-Ann Shain and Mary Jo Kennedy (pictured opposite) Brooklyn, N.Y.

After the New York court of appeals ruled 4-2 to uphold marriage discrimination on July 6, this plaintiff couple--and their daughter, Aliya--committed themselves to continuing the fight. The two recently spoke at a synagogue on Long Island to increase awareness of the issue and to urge people to ask their legislators to support equality. "We're trying to put a face on it," Shain says. "We're hoping to do a lot more now," adds Kennedy. "The thing that amazes me is how little people know. People definitely know it's an issue, but until you talk to people, they don't understand [how much it matters to families like ours]. We have a lot of educating to do. Once people come around, legislative folks will listen."

Reported by Christopher Lisotta
COPYRIGHT 2006 Liberation Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Lisotta, Christopher
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 10, 2006
Words:861
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