For the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, 2004 was dominated by marriage. Gay nuptials made news every day, giving the community unparalleled visibility and creating unprecedented demands.
What began as a comment in Justice Antonin Scalia�s mid-2003 dissenting opinion in the U.S. Supreme Court case striking state sodomy laws--that dismantling the structure of constitutional law permitting a distinction between homosexual and heterosexual unions opens the door to same-sex marriage--swept the nation in 2004, and promises to be as engrossing in 2005.
Same-sex marriage got its start as a national issue in 1998 when Hawaii voters trumped a state supreme court ruling by passing the first constitutional amendment against it. But Scalia�s dissent brought it up from the depths of advocacy groups� long term plans and the rallying cries of anti-gay forces to mainstream prominence.
Meanwhile, another state supreme court ruling, this one in Massachusetts, made it a reality in the U.S. Opponents exploited ignorance and fear and handed us significant setbacks to overcome.
Connubiality between people of the same sex permeated the discourse of nearly every social institution and arguably helped shape the results of a national election. LGBT leadership, caught off guard and unprepared, has ended the year squabbling, with genuine tactical and strategic differences of opinion as to what to do next.
Cheryl Jacques� abrupt departure from the Human Rights Campaign, whether voluntary or involuntary, was the first round of this tiff, which will continue to make news in 2005.
Though November 2 was by most counts a stunning defeat to the LGBT community, having our issues so prominent revealed how most Americans feel about LGBT equality, and this turned out to be good news.
It is clear now that most Americans, regardless of their political affiliation or their position on gay marriage, believe that LGBT people should be treated fairly.
Issue 3, the election�s one bright spot
Nowhere was this clearer than in Cincinnati, with the repeal of the discriminatory Article 12 of the city�s charter.
During the 11 years between its ratification and its repeal, Cincinnatians learned how wrong it is to discriminate against LGBT people. This was most clearly illustrated by the business community�s embracing and supporting the repeal efforts. Mainstream religious leaders and Cincinnati elected officials, some of whom were silent or supported the measure in 1993, changed their positions after living with discrimination�s effects.
Even the word �discrimination� turned out to be undesirable for those who fought to keep the measure. Issue 3 foes sued the city for approving ballot text saying that Article 12 �prohibits the city from protecting people from discrimination based on sexual orientation.� They said it was inaccurate.
The same people had earlier sued the city over a new hate crime ordinance, arguing that Article 12 requires such discrimination.
In the end, Issue 3 opponents tried to make voters believe that repealing the anti-gay charter provision would lead to gay marriage.
It didn�t work. Cincinnati voters rejected anti-gay discrimination by 54-46 percent in the nation�s only LGBT ballot victory of 2004.
The campaign to free Cincinnati of its discriminatory charter provision was conducted by Citizens to Restore Fairness. Like the campaign that created the Cleveland Heights partner registry a year earlier, they used a strategy of winning voters through individual conversations about LGBT lives.
After the November 2 elections, that method has been vindicated for LGBT political organizing.
Issue 1 will keep courts busy
Ohio�s other LGBT ballot initiative, Issue 1, added a prohibition on same-sex marriage, civil unions, and other relationships outside marriage to the state constitution. It passed 62-38 percent.
The campaign to defeat the amendment had insufficient resources and was constrained by the short time it had to organize. But it successfully convinced newspaper editors and elected officials to oppose Issue 1 based on the second sentence, which is vague and likely to cause unintended consequences. It will also reduce rights and benefits for all unmarried Ohio couples.
The campaign, waged by Ohioans Protecting the Constitution, seldom discussed the first sentence, which reserves marriage only for opposite-sex couples.
But the measure�s proponents, the Ohio Campaign to Protect Marriage, talked only about the first sentence and did most of their campaigning in churches. The spokesperson for their campaign was Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, who admitted doing it on behalf of the Bush presidential campaign.
The two-sentence amendment--the most restrictive of the 17 that states have passed--was added to the constitution December 2. The litigation to define what it really means will dominate Ohio�s LGBT news in 2005 and beyond.
The impact of DOMA continues
Ohio�s legislative marriage prohibition, the so-called �defense of marriage act� was passed last winter and took effect May 6. Litigation to interpret what its provisions mean soon followed.
A Cuyahoga County judge ruled that DOMA does not take away Cleveland Heights� right to run its domestic partner registry--a matter also likely to be tested under the constitutional amendment.
In Delaware County, a court will decide if domestic violence laws still apply to unmarried couples, or if DOMA now prohibits that.
A heterosexual couple was told by the Eleventh Ohio District Court of Appeals that they could not marry because the groom is transsexual. The court used DOMA to outline the state�s strong public policy against same-sex marriage--even before the Ohio Senate passed it.
The couple, Jacob and Erin Nash of Warren, traveled to New Hampshire and married in August after a two-year struggle to marry in Ohio.
Federal amendment still pushed
After a failure last summer to get a simple majority of U.S. senators to vote for the anti-marriage amendment to the federal constitution, the House of Representatives decided to bring it up a month before election day in what they admitted was an attempt to attach political baggage to members who did not vote for it, mostly Democrats.
�We will be back, and we will be back, and we will be back. We will never give up,� said Republican leader Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas after the vote.
And they have not. In addition to proposing state constitutional amendments in 15 more states, anti-gay organizations are pushing for the Federal Marriage Amendment to come back up in Congress early in 2005.
Bush won 23% of lesbian-gay vote
The Democratic Party had a record number of LGBT delegates to its convention in Boston last summer, including twelve from Ohio. However, due to the unpopularity of same-sex marriage and the fear that appearing too gay friendly could hurt nominee John Kerry, LGBT issues were mostly kept out of sight.
Kerry was chastised by anti-gays and LGBT conservatives when, during a debate with President Bush, he mentioned Vice President Dick Cheney�s openly lesbian daughter.
The episode was a reminder that many Americans, including LGBT ones, consider it an insult to call an out lesbian a lesbian.
Gay and lesbian Republicans surprised the nation twice during the campaign. First, they criticized Bush for being anti-gay and using LGBT families as a �wedge issue� and withheld the Log Cabin endorsement. Then, election exit polls indicated that about 23% of lesbians and gays voted for Bush anyway, similar to the 25% that voted for him in 2000.
Statehouse is less friendly
Twenty five years after the assassination of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay elected officials, both Ohio and federal legislative bodies became less LGBT-friendly. Some leaders all but abandoned hope of advancing equality in either Congress or the Statehouse.
Incoming Ohio House Speaker Republican Jon Husted of Kettering is seen as more dogmatic a conservative and less pragmatic than his predecessor Larry Householder.
Incoming freshman Democratic representative Jennifer Garrison of Marietta defeated LGBT-friendly Republican Nancy Hollister by gay-baiting her. Hollister was the only Republican to vote against DOMA in both 2001 and 2003. Garrison said that such votes show Hollister doesn�t represent the values of her southeast Ohio district.
By defeating an incumbent Republican, Garrison has charmed House Democratic leadership, which has begun to reward her with plum committee assignments and promises of later advancement.
Some gains were made for LGBT equality in courts in 2004, the most notable being the case of the transgender firefighter whose case against the city of Salem expanded the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include transsexual and gay and lesbian victims of sex stereotyping.
The year was a turning point for the LGBT community, ending with a humbling election and realization that new strategies need to be deployed, with an emphasis on organizing and winning supporters through conversations on their front porches.
That strategic shift has already begun, and it looks promising. Anti-gay forces may have awakened a sleeping dragon. Events of 2005 will determine how much fire that dragon breathes.
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