NOW Plans Day of Action for Same-Sex Marriage


by Kimberlee Ward
Lesbian Rights Program Director

Valentine's Day. The day of love, romance -- and political action.

To send legislators a message that traditional boxes of candy and heart-shaped cards on Valentine's Day aren't enough, NOW will coordinate a National Valentine's Day of Action in support of same-sex marriage. The message: We demand legal recognition of committed lesbian and gay relationships.

A Hawaii court last month took a historic step toward that goal when it ruled that denying same-sex couples a marriage license is unconstitutional sex discrimination under the state's Equal Rights Amendment. The decision was subsequently stayed while it makes its way through the appeals process, with a final ruling expected in two years.

"It's a somewhat ironic, sweet victory for feminists, given the scare tactics the religious political extremists attempted to use against the ERA during our long, intense battles," NOW President Patricia Ireland said.

Marriage is both a cultural and legal recognition of relationships that provides many rights and responsibilities to couples who choose to marry. Without the right to marry, lesbian and gay couples do not have rights like family health coverage, medical and bereavement leave, child custody, tax benefits and pension plans.

Delegates at NOW's 1996 National Conference in Las Vegas overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling for the Valentine's Day actions. NOW chapters nationwide are urged to plan actions near Feb. 14 to highlight the discrimination faced by loving, committed lesbian and gay couples who are denied the legal right to marry in all 50 states.

Staging mock ceremonies on the courthouse steps, organizing rallies and delivering heart-shaped lobbying messages to legislators are some of the ideas included in a Same-Sex Marriage Action Kit sent to chapters.

As the first feminist organization to join the National Freedom to Marry Coalition, NOW is firmly committed to securing same-sex marriage rights. NOW's national board declared support for same-sex marriage in 1995, and NOW activists across the country have battled anti-marriage legislation in at least 39 states.

Of the anti-marriage bills introduced, 20 are dead, 16 have been enacted, and one is pending. The statewide struggles will continue when legislatures reconvene this year, and the radical right has promised to re-introduce anti-same-sex marriage bills in all states that haven't already enacted them.

With the recent passage of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal government made a radical venture into marriage law for the first time in U.S. history. DOMA, which resoundingly passed the Senate and House and was promptly signed into law by President Clinton, attempts to give states the unconstitutional power to deny recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states. It also defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman, thereby denying federal benefits to same-sex couples who may be granted the right to marry in Hawaii and other states.

"DOMA and subsequent statewide anti-marriage laws are examples of the pervasive discrimination lesbians and gay men face in society, including jobs, housing and adoption discrimination," said NOW Executive Vice President Kim Gandy, who also heads up NOW's lobbying efforts. "And despite anti-discrimination laws in nine states and countless cities across the country, no federal law protects people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. We have to make change happen."

For further information on NOW's Day of Action or to obtain an action kit, call 202-331-0066, ext. 760 or email lesbian.rights@now.org.


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