National failure set to follow local successes for American anti-gay marriage campaigners

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This week the US House of Representatives will debate and vote on the proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as exclusively “between a man and a woman”. Despite the failure of the amendment to pass through the Senate only last week, House Republicans are keen to have a vote on the issue just months before the election.

The gay marriage debate is currently arousing a huge amount of attention and emotion on both sides especially after the perceived victories for the anti-gay marriage lobby in Nebraska and Tennessee.

Last Friday the Federal Court of Appeal on reinstated Nebraska’s 70% majority voter approved ban on gay marriage. The ruling was in response to District Judge Joseph Bataillon’s overturning of the ban last year on the grounds that it was motivated by an “irrational fear of homosexuals”.

Confirming the ban on state recognition of same-sex partnership rights on the basis that heterosexual marriage was the “optimal partnership for raising children”, the three judge panel, according to gay rights campaigner Michael Gordon, “put two bolts and a padlock on the door to the Legislature”.

Gordon, who is an activist within the Citizens for Equal Protection, an organization that works on behalf of Nebraska’s gay and lesbian citizens, said the case was “never about marriage” and instead about basic rights which he argues have been once again denied to the gay and lesbian community through this judgement.

In the same week the Tennessee supreme court threw out an appeal by the American Civil Liberties Union which attempted to stop the state’s attempt to pass a constitutional amendment to ban it. Same-sex marriages are already illegal according to Tennessee law, but the state wanted to pass an amendment to ensure that even if the law was overturned there would still be legal obstacles to gay marriage.

Matt Foreman, the executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, was not surprised by either the Nebraska nor Tennessee ruling.

He put the Tennessee decision down to legal technicality whilst claiming that the Nebraska ruling “relied on the same irrational and homophobic arguments that came out of the New York decision to find there is a rational basis to deny gay couples the right to marry.”

Despite the successes for the anti-gay marriage lobby at a state level, the constitutional amendment is still expected to fail when it comes before the House of Representatives this week.

According to gay Representative Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin, the amendment “certainly is a tool that the right wing is using, but i think it has lost the impact it had in 2004” when the issue was seen to contribute to states like Ohio swinging to the Republicans.

He went on to say that voters are more interested in issues like the war in Iraq and health care costs and are far from oblivious as to just how politically motivated the issue is.

With the vote in Congress this week and the November elections including plebiscites on the issue in several states, the debate is set to remain high on the American political agenda for the foreseeable future.