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They're gearing up — Christian conservatives turn to statehouses

This is what I have been talking about. Progressives have to work at the local level to stop these wingnuts. They want to roll the social clock back by passing legislation in the state houses. In North Carolina, we fought off two bills to put to a public vote an amendment to the state constitution on same sex-marriage. The wingnuts are planning to bring it back up again when the legislature reconvenes in January. They must be stopped. (NYT):

…”I think people are becoming emboldened,” said Michael D. Bowman, director of state legislative relations at Concerned Women for America, a conservative Christian advocacy group based in Washington. “On legislative efforts, they’re getting more gutsy, and on certain issues, they may introduce legislation that they normally may not have done.”

Mike Pulizzi praying in the South Dakota Senate gallery as senators debated a bill to outlaw abortion. Photo: Doug Dreyer/Associated Press

It is on the state level “where most family issues are decided,” Mr. Bowman said. And it is there that local advocacy groups hope to build quickly on the momentum from the election when legislatures convene in the new year.

…”People were mobilized during the election and they’re still mobilized,” said Judy Smith, Kansas state director for Concerned Women for America, which is working to put a measure on the ballot in 2006 to amend the Kansas Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. “We would be stupid not to act now. This is exactly what we had hoped for.”

Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood cautioned that despite surveys of voters leaving the polls showing that President Bush was supported by 80 percent of those who listed “moral values” as their top concern, conservative Christians might not have gotten the mandate they say they have.

It’s important to underscore that there are large portions of the country that believe in gay rights and in a woman’s right to choose,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

One state where liberals and conservatives expect a bold step is South Dakota, where conservatives were instrumental in unseating the Senate minority leader, Tom Daschle. Last year, the State Legislature passed a bill banning abortions, except when a woman’s life is in danger or she might suffer irreparable harm.

The bill was vetoed by Gov. Mike Rounds, a Republican, because of imprecise language, liberal and conservative advocates said. The wording was changed accordingly, and the bill will probably be reintroduced and signed this time by the governor, they said. Kate Looby, the state director for Planned Parenthood, said conservatives might feel more confident this time because they expect Mr. Bush to appoint Supreme Court justices who will eventually overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that established a woman’s right to an abortion.

Liberal advocacy groups say they plan to fight many of these efforts. But Mr. Romero of the A.C.L.U. said that beyond filing legal challenges, liberals needed to appropriate the language of morality from Christian conservatives to capture the popular imagination.

“Lawsuits are about telling stories, and we need to talk about why we picked this case and why it’s important,” he said. “For instance, we need to ask, where is the morality when a partner of 20 years is denied hospital access because a state doesn’t believe in gay marriage? Where is the morality in forcing a teenage girl into a back-alley abortion?”

Conservative state officials, like Ms. Martin in Kansas, say they are responding to an increasingly vocal constituency that has already made up its mind about moral issues and wants to shape public policy.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding