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NPR piece on same-sex marriage and 2006 political strategies

There’s an article and audio for this piece by NPR’s Barbara Bradley Hagerty, entitled Marriage Plays Starring Role in Politics… Again. It covers the state of marriage amendments around the country and has a great interactive map accompanying it.

It’s framed around the amendment battle in Virginia, but covers the issue as part of the national battle ahead between the wingers and pro-gay forces — and of course, the Dems stuck in the middle, trying to figure out what to do.

Changing the constitution may seem like overkill, since Virginia already has a law defining marriage as between a man and a woman. But “it’s absolutely necessary,” says State Sen. Steve Newman, a Republican. Newman believes that it is only a matter of time before a couple will move from Massachusetts or Vermont, where same-sex unions are legal, and demand that their union be recognized in Virginia. And while a state court might not recognize such a union, a federal court easily could.

“We’re speaking directly to the federal courts, and saying, ‘States have a right to define what marriage is for each individual state’,” he says. “And so when someone comes to Virginia with a marriage license from that state, it is important that Virginia acts and puts this within their constitution, where there is the most protection.”

19 other states have already done the same political calculus and amended their constitutions. Aside from Virginia, nine others could do the same this year: South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Alabama, Wisconsin, Arizona, Illinois, Idaho and Colorado. This delights Republicans, who have only to look back to the 2004 election, when marriage amendments swept across the country from Oregon to Kentucky.

There’s an interesting portion of this article that deals with what Russ and I have been blogging about today regarding the DNC and the slow-to-the-game advocacy groups like HRC that in 2004 were always caught off guard, behind the curve, playing defense, or actively running from the fight entirely when it came to dealing with the AmTaliban. Have any lessons been learned?

“A lot has changed between 2004 and 2006,” says John Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. “President Bush is not nearly as popular. There are scandals in Washington. The war in Iraq is lingering on. And there are other policy problems. So it may very well be that Republicans will look to social issues, and phenomena like the marriage amendments, as being especially important in an environment where they don’t have as many things going for them.”

At the same time, Green says, Democrats — and especially gay rights activists — have had two years to think about what happened in 2004.

“One of the rules of politics is that mobilization often creates countermobilization,” he says. “And in 2004, with regard to the marriage amendments, most of the action was on the right; there wasn’t as much opposition on the left. And it may very well be that individuals on the left have learned a lesson in that, and may come out in force in 2006 to oppose these amendments.”

…”I think we are doing things differently,” says Seth Kilbourn, who heads the marriage project for the Human Rights Campaign. His gay rights group has learned some lessons. The first is to start the counterattack earlier. In 2004, most of the marriage amendments popped up in late summer, giving his group little time to react. But this year, they have 10 months to mobilize. In Wisconsin, for example, gay rights activists have set up a speakers bureau that’s identified hundreds of people who will talk to their communities and civic clubs about why marriage should be available to same-sex couples.

The second lesson, Kilbourn says, is to simplify the message. “In 2004, we made the campaigns a lot about arguing that amendments go too far, that the effects are unknown, that you should be careful what you put in the constitution,” he says. “But this time around, we’re going to be much more direct about the underlying issue, which is marriage for same-sex couples. We need to make the case for why marriage for same-sex couples is good, why it is the true measure of equal treatment under the law. That will improve the vote.”

Jeezus, it’s like the light bulb just went on.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding