On gay rights, world, U.S. continue to shift
In the two months since Washington voters expanded the state's domestic-partnership law, the gay-rights movement has experienced a burst of wins and losses.
Seattle Times staff reporter
In the two months since Washington voters expanded the state's domestic-partnership law, the global landscape of the gay-rights movement has continued to shift.
From the United States and Latin America to Africa, the movement has experienced a burst of wins and losses — with gays celebrating legal unions in some places while denouncing the threat of execution for being gay in one other.
Three weeks ago, the Mexico City assembly became the first in Catholic-strong Latin America to legalize same-sex unions, and the Council of the District of Columbia voted overwhelmingly to allow gays in the nation's capitol to wed.
Houston last month elected a lesbian mayor, and the California Assembly named the nation's first openly gay speaker.
"I find it all encouraging," Ed Murray, Washington state's longest-serving openly gay lawmaker, said of developments across the globe.
"And as you see these changes taking place, it makes it more promising for us to move forward (with gay marriage) here in Washington state," he said.
There have been developments as well on the federal level, where some gay leaders have complained the Obama administration has not followed through on campaign promises, such as moving to end the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
U.S. House and Senate committees have approved equal-employment benefits for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) federal employees. And the Obama administration has included language on the federal jobs Web site explicitly banning employment discrimination based on gender identity.
"We have to understand that true, lasting change occurs in these incremental ways," said Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which advocates on behalf of gays.
Those opposed to gay marriage have also had recent victories.
In November, on the same night that Washington voters approved Ref. 71, which granted gay and lesbian couples more of the same state rights as married people, voters in Maine repealed a same-sex marriage law that state's legislature had passed earlier.
In early December, the New York state Senate decisively rejected a bill that would have allowed gay couples there to wed.
And on Thursday, the New Jersey Senate voted against a bill that would bring gay marriage to that state, where civil unions now can be performed.
Those who are against gay marriage and what they call special rights for gays remain steadfast in their opposition.
"We hear the argument that eventually gay marriage will be everywhere, accepted, because those who oppose it will die off," said Joseph Backholm, executive director of the Family Policy Institute Washington.
"In fact what we know, what history shows us, is that the side of truth always wins in the long term."
Nationwide, same-sex marriage is legal in five states, the District of Columbia and the Indian nation of Coquille in Oregon.
Seven countries — The Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Spain, Norway, Sweden and South Africa — allow gay marriage, and nearly two dozen others allow some form of civil unions or registered partnership.
In Uganda, meanwhile, a development is unfolding that has been widely denounced: The country's parliament is considering a law to make homosexuality punishable by death.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009, as it is called, has been condemned by voices across the U.S. and Europe — from the Church of Scotland to five Republican U.S. House members who say they are all men of faith and have urged the president of Uganda to oppose the bill.
In Washington, Murray said a majority of residents don't yet support same-sex marriage and that he lacks the votes to pass a bill out of the Senate. He also said Gov. Chris Gregoire is not on record as supporting same-sex unions.
So the same-sex-marriage bill he introduced last year — one that he introduces each session — is unlikely to get a hearing this year.
"I think we have to be in a stronger position," he said. "That's going to take at least a year."
He said he wants the gay community to focus first on raising money and organizing, "so we can be prepared to pass marriage law and fight any referendum that would happen as a result."
Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom describes some of the factors that may have led to the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday, May 23.