Obama Said ‘I Don’t.’ He May Just Mean It.

Last month, former president Bill Clinton joined the increasing number of Democratic politicians who publicly back same-sex marriage. Granted, Clinton’s endorsement — offered in response to a questioner at a Washington conference for liberal college activists — was heavily qualified: Clinton said he is “basically in support” of providing legal recognition to gay couples. This latter-day epiphany from the man who signed the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex unions, earned warm praise from gay activists. “I personally support people doing what they want to do,” Clinton said, and people seemed to believe his apparent change of heart.

Others, however, claimed to know that he has been for gay marriage all along. Kerry Eleveld, Washington correspondent for the Advocate, wrote that “no one ever really believed [Clinton] opposed marriage equality. Call it craven politics, but everyone knows Clinton signed DOMA into law before the ’96 election to avoid a potential GOP family-values offensive at the ballot box.” Eleveld and others contend that support for same-sex marriage among liberal elected officials is a given. It’s just that pesky political exigencies prevent them from publicly expressing their “real” beliefs.

There’s no doubt that part of Clinton’s motivation for signing DOMA was to prevent the Republican Party from using it as a wedge issue. But whether or not that law went against his actual convictions, it is part of Clinton’s legacy to the gay community, along with “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Repealing both is the most important task of the gay rights movement today.

When it comes to same-sex marriage, the movement can’t count on support from the current president either. When White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about Clinton’s comments, he told reporters that his boss “does not support” same-sex marriage. “He supports civil unions,” Gibbs assured. And despite President Obama’s statement that he opposes the ban on gays serving openly in the military, Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings (Fla.) last week said that the White House pressured him to withdraw an amendment that would have prohibited funds from being spent on investigating “don’t ask, don’t tell” violations.

Even if Obama does in fact believe in marriage equality, he hasn’t done — and is unlikely to do — much to forward the cause. And apart from some toothless sniping from a handful of gay activists and donors, he seems to be getting away with it. In this way, the presumed (yet secret) good intentions of Democrats can wind up doing more harm than good: They tell the gay community that Democrats are at least better than the GOP, thus providing an excuse that can be employed endlessly while they stall.

This trust in covert backing from liberal elected officials is an article of faith among most supporters of same-sex marriage. In a recent interview with Newsweek, gay playwright Tony Kushner spoke of Obama’s secret belief in the righteousness of same-sex marriage as if it were painfully obvious. “Pbbbht! Of course he’s in favor of gay marriage!” Kushner exclaimed. His views were echoed by Steve Hildebrand, a gay political consultant who served as Obama’s deputy national campaign director. “I do believe that in his heart he will fight his tail off until we’ve achieved full equality in the gay community,” he told journalist Rex Wockner. I’ve lost track of the number of liberal friends and acquaintances, gay and straight alike, who assure me that Obama “really” supports same-sex marriage and, furthermore, that this point is obvious.

How can they be so sure? People want to like political leaders, and when someone as charismatic as Clinton or Obama comes along, it’s easy to ignore the facts that get in the way of an idealized image. That liberal politicians are indifferent — if not outright opposed — to same-sex marriage stands at utter odds with liberals’ notion of an enlightened community of like-minded progressives. “Does anybody actually believe that Barack Obama and Michelle Obama think that we shouldn’t have — that this man who is a constitutional-law scholar — is it a complicated issue?” Kushner sputtered, as if anyone who disagreed were an imbecile.

Because people such as Kushner view political liberalism as a positive personality trait and not just a worldview, they assume that someone who opposed the Iraq war and sees himself as a “citizen of the world” would also believe in the right of gays to marry. People cannot conceive that such a cosmopolitan and eloquent man as Obama would disagree with them on an issue that they consider a no-brainer.

This is convenient for liberals because it allows them to deflect blame from politicians they like onto those they don’t, namely conservatives, the sincerity of whose opposition to same-sex marriage they never challenge. If only Republicans desisted in their homophobia, this narrative goes, justifiably timid liberals would come out of their closets of prevarication, so to speak, and support gay marriage unambiguously.

Framing gay rights as a strictly partisan issue also allows liberals to obscure the awkward fact that while they are more likely than conservatives to support same-sex marriage, a key Democratic constituency, African Americans, overwhelmingly opposes it.

Obama’s history on the issue does have a complicating twist. On a 1996 Illinois Senate race questionnaire, Obama (or more likely a staffer) wrote, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.” Liberals take from this revelation the assumption that Obama’s apparent flip was insincere.

But there is nothing in his record since he became a national political figure that should give them any reason to think he will revert to his supposedly pro-gay-marriage position. And if Obama actually does believe in same-sex marriage, that makes his public opposition to it worse than it would be if he were genuinely opposed. How is it in any way reassuring to liberals to suppose that a politician agrees with them while selling them down the river? Even if Obama’s apparent flip isn’t genuine, he nonetheless acts as if it were, rendering his supposedly silent support worthless in tangible political terms. Whatever he “really” thinks, Obama’s stance on gay marriage is virtually indistinguishable from that of John McCain.

For some time, liberal politicians have taken a largely wink-and-nod approach to gay issues. They’ve done so with the excuse that the culture must catch up before any progress can be made (an excuse that conveniently doesn’t apply to other liberal interest groups, such as unions and trial lawyers, that do very well when Democrats are in power). Obama paid tribute to this timeworn tactic recently when he told gay activists at the White House: “I want you to know that I expect and hope to be judged not by words, but by the promises my administration keeps. By the time this administration is over, I think you guys will have pretty good feelings about the Obama administration.”

Talking about “feelings” is a cuddly liberal pastime, and Obama’s promise conjures up the phrase that Clinton famously entered into our political lexicon when he told an angry AIDS activist, “I feel your pain.” Maybe now, when it comes to same-sex marriage, he finally does. But it would be nice to have a sitting president whose feelings translate into action.

James Kirchick is an assistant editor of the New Republic and a contributing writer to the Advocate.

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Full article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/31/AR2009073102286.html

Uproar in D.C. as Same-Sex Marriage Gains

The D.C. Council overwhelmingly approved a bill yesterday to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, in a vote that followed a sharp exchange between an openly gay member and a civil rights champion and set off shouts of reproach from local ministers.

The council passed the measure by a vote of 12 to 1. During the debate, council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) accused Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), who cast the dissenting vote, of having taken a “bigoted” position.

After the vote, enraged African American ministers stormed the hallway outside the council chambers and vowed that they will work to oust the members who supported the bill, which was sponsored by Phil Mendelson (D-At Large). They caused such an uproar that security officers and D.C. police were called in to clear the hallway.

Yesterday’s action could be a precursor to a debate later this year over whether to legalize same-sex marriage in the city. “There is no turning back,” said Catania, who plans to introduce a broader gay marriage bill in a few months.

Barry, who said he supports gay rights and civil unions, warned after the vote that the District could erupt if the council does not proceed slowly on same-sex marriage.

“All hell is going to break lose,” Barry said. “We may have a civil war. The black community is just adamant against this.”

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) has said he will sign the bill recognizing same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. The council’s action puts the matter before Congress, which under the Home Rule Charter has 30 days to review District legislation. The bill could present the House and Senate with their biggest test on the same-sex marriage issue since Congress approved the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.

At least one GOP member said yesterday that he will try to block the bill from becoming law.

“Some things are worth fighting for, and this is one of them,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (Utah), the ranking Republican on a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee that oversees the District. “It’s not something I can let go softly into the night. . . . I recognize the Democrats are in the majority, but I represent the majority of Americans on this issue.”

Several council members and gay rights advocates are hopeful that the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate will be able to stop congressional intervention.

“I do not believe that a serious attempt to overturn the council bill will be made or will be successful,” said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who praised the council’s decision.

But the emotional debate that took place yesterday at the Wilson Building suggests that the issue could be divisive in a city with a long history of racial tension in politics.

Barry, a prominent figure during the civil rights movement, said that he “agonized” over whether to oppose the bill but that he decided to stand with the “ministers who stand on the moral compass of God.”

“I am representing my constituents,” said Barry, who later told reporters that “98 percent of my constituents are black, and we don’t have but a handful of openly gay residents.”

Civic activist Philip Pannell, who is openly gay and lives in Ward 8, called Barry’s remarks offensive. “He of all people, coming out of the civil rights movement, should understand the need to fight for the rights of all minorities to be protected,” Pannell said.

Catania and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) are the two openly gay members of the council, and Catania made it clear that he took offense at Barry’s stance.

“This issue is whether or not our colleagues, on a personal level, view me and Jim Graham as your equals,” Catania said, “if we are permitted the same rights and responsibilities and obligations as our colleagues. So this is personal. This is acknowledging our families as much as we acknowledge yours.”

Barry, visibly upset, fired back that he has been a supporter of gay rights since the 1970s.

“I understand this is personal to you and Mr. Graham. I understand because I have been discriminated against,” Barry said. “. . . I resent Mr. Catania saying either you are a bigot or against bigotry, as though this particular legislation represents all of that.”

Catania replied: “Your position is bigoted. I don’t think you are.”

The tenor of the debate was equally heated outside the council chamber.

“We need a new council. They are destroying our youth,” a same-sex marriage opponent, Paul Trantham of Southeast Washington, shouted in the hallway during the ruckus. “Every minister who fears God should be here. This is disrespectful to the nation’s capital. There is nothing equal about same-sex marriage.”

This week, more than 100 black ministers signed a letter to Fenty opposing the measure.

Council member Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) accused some of the black ministers of questioning her religious commitment and threatening to unseat council members who supported the bill. “The ministers have really upset me to a point they have questioned my Christianity, they have questioned my morality,” Alexander said.

The Archdiocese of Washington issued a statement criticizing yesterday’s vote as showing “a lack of understanding of the true meaning of marriage.”

Outside the Wilson Building, Steven Gorman of Crestwood in Northwest Washington stood quietly holding a “marriage equality” sign. “I’ve been out for 25 years, and I’ve been battling for 25 years,” said Gorman, who married his partner last summer in California. “This is not over, but we are winning.”

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Full article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/05/AR2009050501618.html?hpid=topnews

The flip-side of same-sex marriage

Those who object on religious grounds need legal protection too.

As a growing number of states stand poised to pass same-sex marriage laws, they should consider this: It’s possible to legalize gay marriage without infringing on religious liberty. But it takes careful crafting of robust religious protections. And no state has gotten that right yet.

The country is deeply divided on same-sex marriage. But once it is recognized legally, all kinds of people — clerks in the local registrar’s office, photographers, owners of reception halls, florists — might not have the legal right to refuse to provide services for same-sex weddings, even if doing so would violate deeply held beliefs. Religious organizations could be affected too. For example, a Catholic university that offers married-student housing might have to rent to married same-sex couples or risk violating state law.

These are not imagined or speculative concerns. Flash-points over same-sex unions are already occurring across the United States. In Iowa, the state’s attorney general told county recorders that they must issue licenses to same-sex couples or face criminal misdemeanor charges and even dismissal. New Mexico’s Human Rights Commission fined a husband-wife photography team more than $6,000 because they declined to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony. In New Jersey, authorities yanked the property tax exemption of a church group that denied requests by two lesbian couples to use the group’s boardwalk pavilion for their commitment ceremonies.

So what should states do to respond to these clashes between same-sex relationships and religious liberty?

What they should not do is what New Hampshire’s Senate did last week: pay lip-service to religious freedom while enacting meaningless protections. New Hampshire’s bill provides that “members of the clergy … shall not be obligated … to officiate at any particular civil marriage or religious rite of marriage in violation of their right to free exercise of religion.” But this is a hollow guarantee: The 1st Amendment already provides such protection.

Last month, Connecticut and Vermont became the first states to pass conscience protection for religious dissenters in their same-sex marriage laws. Both states provide that religious groups “shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges to an individual if the request … is related to the solemnization of a marriage or celebration of a marriage.” Both also bar civil suits by people denied such wedding-related services.

Connecticut went even further. In that state, a “religious organization” providing adoption services may continue to place children only with heterosexual married couples as long as it gets no government money. Thus, in Connecticut, unlike in Massachusetts, Catholic Charities will not have to close its doors or face litigation threats.

As important as these exemptions for organizations are, states still weighing same-sex marriage should do better. Wedding advisors, photographers, bakers, caterers and other service providers who prefer to step aside from same-sex ceremonies for religious reasons also need explicit protection.

Some have argued that gay-marriage laws do not need such guarantees because they don’t require religious objectors to do any particular thing. But new laws are interpreted in light of existing statutes, and Vermont and Connecticut — as well as all six states still considering same-sex marriage — have laws on the books prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Because of those laws, many people could have to choose between conscience and livelihood. In Massachusetts, individuals violating the non-discrimination statute can be fined up to $50,000. In Connecticut, business owners can be sentenced to 30 days in jail.

Conscience protections are a thoroughly American idea. Since Colonial times, legislatures have exempted religious minorities from laws inconsistent with their faith. Such exemptions allow Americans with radically different views on moral questions to live in peace and equality in the same society.

Connecticut and Vermont have gone part of the way toward recognizing that the rights of same-sex couples should not come at the expense of the religious people who believe that marriage means a husband and a wife.

Now, New York, Illinois, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia should take the time to get same-sex marriage right.

Robin Wilson is a professor of law at Washington and Lee University School of Law.

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Full article: http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-wilson3-2009may03,0,248550.story

Dems Sense Opportunity on Gay Marriage

Gay marriage legalization in several states and the public’s growing acceptance of same-sex unions have Democrats sensing political opportunity and some Republicans re-evaluating their party’s hard-line opposition to an issue that long has rallied its base.

In recent weeks, Vermont and Iowa have legalized same-sex marriage, while New York, Maine and New Hampshire have taken steps in that direction. Polls show younger Americans are far are more tolerant on the issue than are older generations. For now at least, the public is much more focused on the troubled economy and two wars than on social issues.

In addition, over the past decade, public acceptance of gay marriage has changed dramatically.

A Quinnipiac University poll released last week found that a majority of people questioned, by a 55-38 percent margin, oppose gay marriage. But it also found that people, by a 57-38 percent margin, support civil unions that would provide marriage-like rights for same-sex couples, indicating a shift toward more acceptance.

With congressional elections next year, Republicans, Democrats and nonpartisan analysts say the changes benefit Democrats, whose bedrock liberals favor gay unions, and disadvantage Republicans, whose conservative base insists that marriage be solely between a man and a woman.

”This is not a sea change. This is a tide that is slowly rising in favor of gay marriage,” creating a favorable political situation for Democrats and ever-more difficulty for Republicans, said David McCuan, a political scientist at Sonoma State University in California.

Democrats have a broader base filled with more accepting younger voters, as well as flexibility on the issue. Hard-core liberals support gay marriage, while others, including President Barack Obama, take a more moderate position of civil unions and defer to states on gay marriage.

Conversely, the GOP base is older, smaller and more conservative. Republicans have no place to shift on the issue but to the left, because the party has been identified largely with its rock-solid opposition to gay marriage and civil unions. Also, the GOP has no titular head setting the tone on this or other issues.

In recent months, proponents have used state legislatures and court challenges to legalize gay marriage, mindful that the majority of the public still isn’t supportive and successful ballot measures would be less likely.

Because of high court rulings, gay marriage now is legal in Iowa, Massachusetts and Connecticut. A Vermont law allowing gay marriage will take effect in September. New Hampshire and New Jersey, where same-sex couples can enter into civil unions, are considering gay marriage legislation. So are Maine and New York.

Political insiders no doubt will pay close attention to developments in Iowa and New Hampshire, early presidential voting states, to see how the issue plays out in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election.

Despite the changes, gay-marriage opponents are buoyed by a voter initiative in California that blocked the state from allowing gay marriage, and by the 29 states where voters have approved state constitutional amendments banning gay marriage.

For years, the GOP and its conservative base has used its opposition to gay marriage to drive Republican turnout in elections and marginalize party moderates. Measures defining marriage between a man and a woman that were on ballots in a slew of states in 2004 were widely credited with boosting the number of conservative voters, giving Republican George W. Bush an edge over Democrat John Kerry.

But there’s been conflicting evidence since then over just how much that contributed to Bush’s victory.

What’s certain is that opposition to gay marriage for decades has been a potent tool for the GOP in rallying social conservatives. They are critical to the party’s grass-roots organizing and small-dollar fundraising.

But as more states accept gay and lesbian unions, there is a debate inside the party over how it should position itself on the issue. The dispute is just one part of a broader struggle within the out-of-power GOP over its identity and whether it should focus on rallying conservatives or attracting supporters from across the political spectrum.

Some prominent Republicans are backing away from cut-and-dried opposition, and some party operatives say it’s only a matter of time before others follow suit because the country is changing.

Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah, a Mormon who is a potential presidential candidate, backed a 2004 constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. But he says he favors civil unions and extending some legal rights to gay couples.

Last month, John McCain’s chief campaign strategist, Steve Schmidt, told the Log Cabin Republicans: ”Even though a majority of Republicans remain opposed to it, we must respect dissent on the subject within the party and encourage debate over it, and should not reject out of hand and on specious grounds … that the party might be in the wrong on the question.”

The shifting landscape is emboldening the gay-rights’ movement, a pillar of the Democratic Party’s left flank.

”We are at a tipping point moment,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a leading advocate of gay rights. ”The lingering minority that continues to think that the way to win is to hold GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) people up as a wedge could not be more out of touch.”

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Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/05/02/us/politics/AP-US-Gay-Marriage-Politics.html

Maine Senate Backs Same-Sex Marriage

Maine could be the next New England state to embrace same-sex marriage after the State Senate voted Thursday to legalize the practice.

The Democratic-controlled Senate voted 21 to 14 for a bill that would allow gay couples to marry starting later this year. The measure appears to have even broader support in the House of Representatives, which will take it up on Tuesday.

Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat, used to oppose same-sex marriage. But since the bill was introduced in January, he has said he is keeping an open mind.

“He said at the beginning of this process that he was going to listen to debate on the question,” said David Farmer, Mr. Baldacci’s spokesman, “and make his final decision once the bill reaches his desk.”

The vote was the latest victory for gay rights groups in New England, which are campaigning to get same-sex marriage approved in all six of the region’s states by 2012. Massachusetts and Connecticut already allow same-sex marriage, and the Vermont Legislature approved it last month.

The New Hampshire legislature is likely to send a same-sex marriage bill to Gov. John Lynch in the coming weeks, though Mr. Lynch, a Democrat and an opponent, might veto it. A bill has been introduced in the Rhode Island legislature but is unlikely to be acted on this year.

If the Maine Legislature approves same-sex marriage, opponents will try to collect enough signatures to suspend the law until a public referendum can be held — probably in June 2010 — asking voters if they want to overturn it. But Mary Bonauto, the lawyer who argued the case that led to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, said gay rights groups would wage an exhaustive campaign against a so-called people’s veto.

“I think we have better than a fighting chance on that,” Ms. Bonauto said.

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Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/01/us/01maine.html?hpw

N.H. Senate Passes Gay Marriage Bill

The New Hampshire Senate voted narrowly on Wednesday to legalize same-sex marriage, paving the way for the state to potentiallybecome the fifth in the nation — and the third this month — to allow gay couples to wed.

The Democratic-controlled Senate voted 13 to 11 in favor of the bill, but only after a last-minute amendment strengthened language granting legal protections for religious groups and organizations that do not want to perform or otherwise help carry out same-sex marriages.

The House, which approved the marriage bill by a seven-vote margin last month, will now vote on the Senate’s amended version. Supporters and opponents both predicted that version would pass the House, which is more liberal and was more enthusiastic about same-sex marriage from the start. The bill probably cannot gain enough support in either house for an override, so its fate almost certainly rests with Gov. John Lynch.

It is unclear whether Gov. Lynch, a Democrat, will veto the law or whether the new language will persuade him to endorse it. Mr. Lynch has consistently opposed same-sex marroiage but has never said whether he would veto the bill or let it be enacted without his signature.

He did not reveal his intentions after the vote but reiterated his belief that the state’s two-year-old civil-union law provides sufficient rights and protections to gay couples.

“To achieve further real progress,” he said in a statement, “the federal government would need to take action to recognize New Hampshire civil unions.”

The Defense of Marriage Act, passed by Congress in 1996, prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage. It denies federal benefits, like Social Security survivors’ payments, to spouses in such marriages.

Brian Brown, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, which was established to fight same-sex marriage around the country, said the group would intensively lobby Mr. Lynch to veto it. “This vote is in no way representative of what folks in New Hampshire want,” Mr. Brown said, adding that the Senate leadership had used “arm-twisting” to change the votes of a few crucial Democrats. “If the governor is going to stand by his words and his stated position, he will veto this bill.”

To some extent, the support for same-sex marriage reflects a sea change in New Hampshire politics since 2006, when Democrats gained control of the legislature for the first time in over a century. But while staunchly conservative on fiscal matters, New Hampshire has been less so about social issues, partly because its citizens’ famous libertarian streak resists government intrusion in personal matters.

But last-minute politicking also played a role. Last week the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 3 to 2 against the marriage measure, and the committee’s chairwoman, Senator Deborah Reynolds, a Democrat, said afterward that New Hampshire was simply not ready for same-sex marriage.

Ms. Reynolds, the only Democrat who opposed the bill in committee, stressed that civil unions were still new in New Hampshire and that Vermont, whose legislature approved same-sex marriage on April 7, had done so only after living with civil unions for nine years.

But on Wednesday, Ms. Reynolds, who represents a fairly conservative region, said the new language made the bill acceptable. She described it as a compromise that was “respectful to both sides of the debate and meets our shared goals of equality under the state laws for all of the people of New Hampshire.”

Gov. Jim Douglas of Vermont, a Republican, vetoed that state’s same-sex marriage bill this month but the Democratic-controlled legislature overrode the veto, making Vermont the first state to adopt same-sex marriage legislatively instead of through the courts. Days earlier, the Iowa Supreme Court found a state law banning same-sex marriage to be a violation of the state Constitution.

The New Hampshire Legislature approved civil unions in 2007, and more than 650 have been registered in the state since they became legal in January 2008.

Same-sex marriage was among several contentious bills that the Senate took up Wednesday, all passed by the House in recent weeks. One, a measure to allow people with certain illnesses to possess marijuana for medical purposes, passed in a 14 to 10 vote. But the Senate voted unanimously against a bill that would guarantee transgender people protection from housing and employment discrimination. It also put off action on a bill to repeal the death penalty.

Democrats hold a 14 to 10 majority in the New Hampshire Senate, but it is generally more centrist and cautious than the House, where Democrats hold a 223 to 175 majority.

Opponents of same-sex marriage appeared somewhat better organized here than in Vermont, where the opposition was relatively small and fragmented. Cornerstone Research Institute waged an intense phone campaign with help from the National Organization for Marriage, but the New Hampshire Freedom to Marry Coalition and other gay-rights groups also lobbied fiercely.

Mo Baxley, the coalition’s executive director, described the Senate bill as a fair compromise.

“It is in keeping with New Hampshire’s live-free-or-die tradition to stand up for individual liberties and against discrimination of any kind,” she said.

“I have to say,” Ms. Baxley added, “America is at a turning point.”

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Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/30/us/30marriage.html?hp