ANALYSIS <b>Same-Sex Mariage</b>: Groups up efforts after MA same-sex marriage ruling

After Massachusetts' legalization of same-sex marriages, groups on both sides of the issue are beefing up efforts to affect what happens in other states.

After Massachusetts' legalization of same-sex marriages, groups on both sides of the issue are beefing up efforts to affect what happens in other states.

On May 17, same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts. Media outlets across the country were flooded with images of happy gay couples tying the knot in chapels, churches, and city halls in ceremonies that seemed more traditional than groundbreaking. As gay and lesbian couples across the state rushed to the altar with licenses in hand, activists on both sides of the controversial issue began to regroup for a switch in strategies as the topic moved from social theory to reality. "It certainly has changed the landscape because now it's no longer just a case of hypotheticals," says Evan Wolfson, director of Freedom to Marry. While same-sex advocates were buoyed by the state-sanctioned unions, Massachusetts represents a sore defeat for opponents of such marriages and moves the issue one step closer to becoming a central topic in upcoming elections. Some conservatives see momentum for other states to follow in Massachusetts' footsteps and fear that waiting until after elections to push their federal and state bans will be too late. "We put a large amount of energy into Massachusetts," says Peter Brandt, director of Focus on the Family. "The challenges for us now are two: How do we quarantine gay marriages in Massachusetts and how do we keep what is taking place in Massachusetts from infecting other states?" Many politicians in both parties, however, would rather avoid the divisive issue. Democrats fear the threat of the perceived moral morass will bring Republican voters out in record numbers. Some Republicans fear associating themselves with a movement that is often lambasted as homophobic or discriminatory. "This is almost the mother of all wedge issues," Donna Brazile, Al Gore's campaign manager in 2000, recently told The New York Times. "Issues like that really motivate people. It has legs. It will affect races as far up as the presidency and as far down as school-board races." The reluctance on the part of conservative lawmakers to take immediate action is pushing the opposition to same-sex marriage to adopt aggressive grassroots and public-affairs tactics to push their cause onto the political agenda. "It has not reached critical mass, so we know a number of senators who have not taken a position on it," says Brandt. "But we believe that FMA" - the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would ban same-sex nuptials - "is ultimately the solution to this problem." Tom McClusky, public affairs director for DC-based Family Research Council, seconds Brandt's assessment. "In the states there is certainly a sense of urgency but we are still sensing some reluctance on the Hill," he says. "We're trying to make it so that it's not a political issue, but everything is a political issue in this town." McClusky says his organization is concentrating on meeting with sympathetic lawmakers to help them craft strong positions on the topic, including steering the debate away from a civil-rights argument to make it a family issue. Reaching out to other groups Faced with a difficult time lobbying their cause in Washington, many conservative activists are instead focusing their efforts in the states. "Instead of going to [Capitol Hill] offices, we're asking people in the states to go to district offices to talk about it," says McClusky. "Make it personal. Senators and congressmen are being inundated with faxes and e-mails." To keep those faxes and e-mails churning, these activists have taken to some hi-tech measures to reach out to a voter base sympathetic to their views. Recently, Brandt's organization teemed with other groups to create a webcast and satellite feed called the "Battle for Marriage." The rally featured prominent pastors and conservative speakers, and was beamed live to more than 300 churches across the US. "We've never done anything quite like it," says Brandt. He added that many evangelical churches have installed high-end overhead TV screens and other audiovisual equipment in recent years, creating an untapped network of broadcast-ready venues. "Most evangelical churches threw the hymnals away years ago and put in overhead screens, so that lends itself wonderfully well to do something like this," he explains. To date, that outreach has helped five states to collect enough signatures to put different versions of "defense of marriage" amendments on the November ballot. Others may soon follow. Some in favor of same-sex marriage say that conservatives are off base when it comes to November's voting and that this issue may not be as pivotal as the right would like to portray it. "The degree to which this will be a central question in the election is overstated," says Wolfson. "War, economy, education, healthcare: Most people are going to make their decisions on those bread-and-butter, central questions." Still, he adds, "Americans will not be particularly impressed with candidates who are willing to play with fire near the Constitution." Despite Wolfson's view that voters have other concerns, same-sex advocates aren't taking any chances. For their part, the issue has become putting a spotlight on those Massachusetts marriages and putting real newlyweds center stage. They also are concentrating on increasing that civil-rights debate that conservatives are so quick to discount. Part of that includes reaching out beyond the gay community to involve activists and other influentials. "It is reaching out to non-gay voices of equality," says Wolfson. "We're directly asking leading Americans, non-gay as well as gay, in various professions and communities to speak out." While there are few ideas both sides of the debate can agree on, one of them is that this issue is not just for the political - or even social - arena. "This goes beyond being a moral issue," says Brandt. "This is going to be a significant economic issue." He says that same-sex marriage represents a danger to corporate America and to government coffers. If same-sex marriage is legalized across the nation, companies would have to equalize benefits for same-sex couples and government benefits like social security would have to be adjusted. The economic factor While same-sex advocates don't see that as a problem, they agree that same-sex marriages will have an effect on the economy - one around which some companies already are crafting PR initiatives and business strategies. Weddings are a huge industry throughout the US, enriching both small businesses and large corporations. Companies like Pottery Barn have offered wedding registries for same-sex couples for years, but now that the prospect of another lucrative revenue stream is heading up the aisle, more companies are taking note. Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, for example, has a PR tour planned this month for the debut of Gay and Lesbian Weddings: Planning the Perfect Same-Sex Ceremony by magazine writer David Toussaint. In San Francisco, high-end pastry boutique Citizen Cake created the wedding cakes for a large celebration in that city when it began offering marriage licenses to gay couples earlier this year. While the validity of those licenses is currently being debated by the state Supreme Court, Citizen Cake already has seen a rise in business as it becomes the cake company of choice for same-sex weddings. In Chicago, Hearty Boys catering has seen a similar bump in business after targeting same-sex couples. While such business stories are still anecdotal, they point to what could be a strong consumer base in the future. But one more thing both sides can agree on is that the future is far from certain. "This will be a struggle for years to come," says Wolfson.

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