If there's any doubt that last year's state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage was less about marriage than homophobia, consider the next item on some anti-gay activists' agendas: Preventing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people from adopting or providing foster care to children.
So far Florida is the only state with such a ban on gay adoption. In January the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to the ban, which has been in place since 1977.
But as voters pass a slew of state constitutional amendments that in some form prevent gay marriage — last week Texas became the 19th state to do so, with an overwhelming three-quarters majority — anti-gay activists are turning their attention to chipping away at other civic markers for GLBT citizens.
Yet Gary Wright, president of the GLBT advocacy group Equality Cincinnati, actually doesn't see that as such a bad thing.
"I'm not sure I don't want them to try to do this at the polls because I think we can beat them," Wright said Nov. 13. "They're going too far."
Wright led a program that night called "Gay Marriage: One Year after Issue 1" at Northern Hills Fellowship Unitarian Universalist Church, part of the church's Voices of Justice Speaker Series.
Marginalizing the middle
Even though last year nearly 62 percent of Ohio voters passed State Issue 1, a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, Wright doesn't believe they're all as rabidly homophobic as those who pushed the proposal.
Leading the charge on Issue 1 were pretty much the same groups now angling to introduce bans on gay adoption and foster parenting, including the infamous Citizens to Restore Fairness (CCV), a Sharonville-based anti-gay group, Wright said.
He suggested there's a national correlation between white, evangelical Protestants and hard-core anti-gay activists. More gay-friendly states such as Massachusetts and New York don't have more than 9 percent of that white, evangelical Protestant demographic.
"Kentucky's much worse off at 50 percent," Wright said.
Only about 27 percent of Ohio's voting citizens are white evangelicals, meaning anti-gay activists must form coalitions to win passage on anti-gay measures. Wright hopes they're starting to overplay their hands.
"If they want to marginalize some of the people in the middle, we should find every way to help them do it," he said.
A 2004 Kentucky House Bill to ban GLBT adoption and foster parenting never made it out of committee, and Virginia and Texas also turned down initial attempts to implement such a ban.
But the Kentucky Fairness Alliance expects similar legislation to be introduced during the 2006 legislative session. In Ohio, State Rep. Tim Schaffer (R-Lancaster) might put forth legislation banning GLBT adoption and foster parenting.
A draft of the possible legislation, found on Case Western Reserve University's Web site (www.case.edu/ provost/lgbt/legalnews.htm), would prevent the state from granting a foster home certificate to a GLBT caregiver or even a heterosexual one if anyone in his or her household is GLBT.
Such language means the state could even prevent adoption or foster parenting if a straight caregiver has a previously adopted or fostered GLBT minor still in the household.
While the parenting fight looms, gay marriage might be in for still worse knocks, Wright said. Activists might yet try for a federal marriage amendment.
A national battle for a constitutional amendment would be fought in part at the local and state levels, so the only thing gay civil rights activists can do is start replacing legislators one by one, Wright said. It doesn't really matter how long that takes because there's no alternative, he said.
That's why Equality Cincinnati — born of the successful fight by Citizens to Restore Fairness to repeal the Cincinnati City Charter's discriminatory Article 12 — formed a political action committee to endorse city candidates and issues.
Next year Equality Cincinnati will expand its scope even further to include statewide candidates and issues. That work is beginning now with the two people who currently comprise Equality Ohio.
Needed: brave people
In spite of the possibility of such imminent battles, Wright spoke hopefully about the long-term future of gay marriage.
"Same-sex marriage is ultimately going to be accepted in Ohio and the United States," he said.
First of all, Wright knows grassroots education and advocacy tactics work. For 11 years, Article 12 had made it impossible to pass legislation protecting Cincinnatians from discrimination based on their sexual orientation. But even though the repeal campaign was heavily outspent, door-to-door conversation trumped flashy TV ads urging Cincinnatians to keep Article 12 on the books.
"People overestimate the power of the media," Wright said.
In addition to repealing Article 12, voters in the city rejected State Issue 1 last year, making Cincinnati the largest city to do so, according to Wright.
"That's the strongest evidence that basic attitudes are changing," he said. "We made people think discrimination is wrong."
He believes that, as more and more people see their GLBT neighbors living pretty much similarly normal lives, acceptance of GLBT people as full humans and citizens will eventually come about, just as it did for former slaves and for women.
It's the spread of the notion of natural rights that began during the Enlightenment, found its first practical application through the French Revolution and forms the basis of the Declaration of Independence, Wright said. The newfound anti-gay theology lately spouted by some evangelists simply can't stand up to that.
In the meantime, there's much work left for Wright to do. The repeal of Article 12 didn't create any protections for GLBT Cincinnatians; it just removed the legal block to implementing them.
Both mayoral candidates received the endorsement of Equality Cincinnati PAC, and six of the nine people elected to city council Nov. 8 sought it. But that doesn't mean GLBT protection is automatically going to follow.
"The council is not as progressive on this issue as we would like them to be," Wright said.
However, three of the group's four endorsed school board candidates won, a coup because one key to changing attitudes is convincing schools that discrimination is wrong.
"We need brave people in all these places to do these things," Wright said. "That's why it's so important for gay parents to be out there." ©