Reassessing the Rout of ‘04

Reassessing the Rout of ‘04

HRC, state groups assert state legislative races bode well for gay rights progress

“New York stands out in the country as a state that continues to make progress,” Van Capelle said.

“Not one person who voted for SONDA [passed after the 2002 elections] lost re-election this time around unless they were challenged by a more progressive opponent,” he said.

In Vermont and Massachusetts, the two states where gay rights have progressed the furthest, no legislator who supported, respectively, civil unions or marriage was defeated.

Yet, the contradiction of progressive legislators constantly re-elected by constituencies that sometimes follow the lead of far-right conservatives still puzzles. Kilbourn and Cassell had similar explanations.

“Let’s face it, the average voter is uncomfortable with gay marriage and when asked if they define marriage as between a man and a woman, they say yes, and we get these sweeping amendments,” Kilbourn said. “Not only were some of these ballot measures confusingly worded so that people might not have known what they meant, but we didn’t have the time to educate people on what they really meant.”

Cassell echoed this.

“Oregonians, I think, are unaware of all the hardships gay people live under because they can’t marry; of all the things they are denied because they can’t marry,” she said.

Cassell believes Oregonians are generally in favor of gay civil rights and will change their view on same-sex marriage with education. She also noted that preparations must be made against any future efforts by right-wing groups to erode civil rights. The driving force behind Oregon’s same-sex marriage amendment was a $2.5 million ad campaign organized by an unprecedented coalition of conservative anti-tax, anti-abortion and religious organizations.

“This has broad implications for future ballot initiatives,” Cassell said. “We need to be prepared and start planning now. We have to plan for another campaign now so we are not surprised like we were this time.”