Valentine's Day of Action Draws Much Attention

Activists protesting outside the Washington PostActivists organized by Capital City NOW demonstrated at The Washington Post to protest the paper's double standard of printing same-sex personal ads but refusing to publish same-sex commitment ceremony announcements. The picket was one of 109 chapter actions nationwide. Photo by Melinda L. Shelton.

by Kimberlee Ward,
Lesbian Rights Program Director

The power of NOW's grassroots was in full force last month, when more than 100 NOW chapters nationwide staged protests and campaigns to demonstrate support for same-sex marriage. NOW's Valentine's Day of Action ignited interest from California to Maine, with mock wedding ceremonies, rallies at state capitols, numerous public protests and Valentine's postcard campaigns to lawmakers.

Activists of all sexual orientations took part in the actions, sending a unified message that lesbian rights are women's rights. Protests extended beyond statehouses and public rallies to include demonstrations at two of the nation's most prestigious newspapers: The Washington Post and The New York Times.

In Washington, D.C., activists gathered outside of The Washington Post to demand equal access to paid announcements about commitment ceremonies for lesbian and gay couples. Ironically, the Post is willing to print anonymous, same-sex personal ads, but refuses to recognize loving, committed same-sex couples on its engagement and wedding announcement pages.

The New York Times was also on the receiving end of a demonstration for the same reasons as its Washington, D.C., counterpart. Activists from NOW New York City publicly exposed and protested the newspaper's prejudiced policy.

Outside The Washington Post's office, NOW President Patricia Ireland told an estimated 60 protesters that NOW's day of action was a public show of support for lesbian and gay rights and an appeal for justice.

"We demonstrate today to urge people to move a step further in their sense of justice," Ireland told the crowd. "Polls show a majority now favors making discrimination based on sexual orientation illegal on the job. We are asking people to support their lesbian and gay family members, friends and colleagues in their private as well as their public lives. Let committed lesbian and gay couples have the right to make it legal and to affirm their commitment publicly -- in our courthouses and on the pages of our country's newspapers."

Elsewhere across the country, actions included:

The chapter actions were particularly successful in providing visibility about the injustice same-sex couples face without the equal rights and responsibilities of marriage. And they could not have come at a more crucial time, as marriage has recently become a major issue on the national agenda.

Last December, a Hawaii court ruled that denying same-sex couples a marriage license is unlawful sex discrimination under the state constitution's equal protection clause. While the case makes its way through the appeals process, same-sex marriage is currently not legal in any state.

Meanwhile, religious and political extremists have launched a huge backlash against the decision. They vow a re-invigorated attack against a national Equal Rights Amendment and are pressuring legislators to introduce anti-marriage legislation in the 32 states that don't currently have such laws.

In anticipation of the Hawaii decision, last year Congress passed and President Clinton signed the inappropriately-named Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). It denies federal recognition to same-sex marriages and prevents lesbian and gay couples from receiving survivor and pension benefits, tax breaks and other rights and responsibilities that heterosexual married couples receive.

"We need to keep reminding ourselves that despite the losses we've suffered in states that have passed laws banning same-sex marriage, we have also managed to defeat 20 state laws that would have done the same," Ireland said. "We know a radical right wedge issue when we see one, and we will continue to fight back."

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