ELECTION DIGEST: 'Gay marriage' debate could now shift to state legislatures

ALBANY, N.Y. (BP)--The debate over "gay marriage" has been fought mostly in courtrooms and at ballot boxes in recent years, but it soon could be moving to state legislatures in New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Vermont, four states where homosexual activists believe they have an opportunity for a landmark victory.

Although two states (Massachusetts and Connecticut) recognize "gay marriage" due to court rulings -- the Connecticut decision went into effect Wednesday -- no state has willingly changed its marriage laws through the legislative process.

New York could be the first target, particularly after Democrats won the Senate on Election Day, giving them the most seats in that chamber for the first time since the 1960s. They already control the Assembly -- which passed a "gay marriage" bill in 2007 -- and the governor's office. Gov. David A. Paterson says he would sign such a bill.

But the fate of "gay marriage" in the New York Senate is far from a done deal. Democrats won 32 of the Senate's 62 seats, but three of those Democratic senators or senators-elect -- two of them are Latino -- are refusing to back the would-be majority leader, Malcolm A. Smith, who had promised to allow a floor vote on "gay marriage." The previous Republican leadership blocked it.

The "Gang of Three" is providing political drama that the party had hoped to avoid. Each of them has considerable power, since Democrats need at least 32 votes to organize and unify behind a majority leader. Republicans are trying to talk the three men into caucusing with them, which would allow the GOP to maintain control.

The concerns of the three Democrats are wide-ranging. They want to see Latino representation among the leadership. One of the members, Ruben Diaz Sr. of the Bronx, says he will not back anyone for majority leader who supports "gay marriage." Diaz is a Pentecostal minister.

"I have not committed myself to anybody, and my position as an ordained minister and a pastor will not allow me to support any would-be leader that will bring gay marriage to the Senate floor," Diaz said in a statement printed in the Washington Examiner. "This is nothing new. Mr. Smith and all my colleagues have known my position for more than a year. That does not make me a Republican.

"Where is it written that in order to be a Democrat you have to support gay marriage?" he asked. "And where is it written that if you do not support gay marriage you are not a good Democrat? I have always been a Democrat. I remain a Democrat, and I will continue to be a Democrat. A Democrat who rejects gay marriage and abortion based upon my beliefs."

One of three, Sen. Carl Kruger, said the three men won't make a decision about who they will support until January, when the legislature is seated. He also said he and Diaz will seek to have "gay marriage" put before voters, The New York Times reported.

Republicans have 29 seats and are leading in an undecided race that would give them 30 seats.

One of the three, Sen.-elect Pedro Espada Jr., says he won't vote for a Republican but also won't vote for Smith, the New York Daily News reported. Kruger, was defiant.

"I don't care if we go past the opening of session without a decision," Kruger told the newspaper. "Until I am totally satisfied the house will be run differently, that there will be a voice for everyone and not just the left wing of the party, I won't ever, ever, ever succumb."

Meanwhile, legislatures in New Jersey, Vermont and New Hampshire could consider "gay marriage" legalization in the coming months. All three states recognize civil unions, which offer all the legal benefits of marriage, minus the name. Democrats control the New Jersey House and Senate as well as the governor's office. In Vermont, Democrats control the House and Senate, although Republicans kept the governor's office on Election Day when Jim Douglas, who opposes "gay marriage," was re-elected. Democrats also control the House and Senate and governor's office in New Hampshire.

Earlier this year a spokesman for New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine said the governor would sign a bill legalizing "gay marriage" as long as the bill comes to his desk after the November elections.

"He will sign a bill, but doesn't want to make it a presidential election year issue," Corzine spokeswoman Lilo Stainton said, according to the Associated Press.

Although the debate over "gay marriage" may turn to state legislatures, courts still will play a significant role. Iowa's Supreme Court will hear a "gay marriage" case Dec. 9.

HOMOSEXUAL MAN ELECTED TO CONGRESS -- Homosexual activists suffered significant setbacks on Election Day, but they did experience a number of victories, including the election of another openly homosexual congressman when Democrat Jared Polis beat Republican Scott Starin 62-34 percent to win the 2nd District from Colorado. It's a heavily Democratic district: No Republican has held it since Gerald Ford was president, according to the Rocky Mountain News.

Polis is the "first out man to be elected to Congress after campaigning as an openly gay person," according to the Gay & Lesbian Leadership Institute.

Polis won on the same day Colorado conservatives lost a pro-family champion in Congress. Republican Rep. Marilyn Musgrave -- a former sponsor of the federal marriage amendment -- lost to Democrat Betsy Markey, 56-44 percent.

NATION'S FIRST 'TRANSGENDER' MAYOR -- The small town of Silverton, Ore. -- population 9,588 -- elected the nation's first openly transgender mayor on Election Day when Stu Rasmussen, a man who dresses like a woman and has implants, beat incumbent Ken Hector, The Oregonian reported.

Rasmussen, 60, operates a theater in town and previously served as mayor and city council member. But his former time in the mayor's office came before he began crossdressing. He has a live-in girlfriend.

"I am a dude," he told the newspaper. "I am a heterosexual male who appears to be a female."

SAN FRANCISCO SAYS NO TO PROSTITUTION -- San Francisco may be a bastion of liberalism, but it declined on Election Day to decriminalize prostitution. Voters in the city and county of San Francisco turned down Measure K -- which would have prevented police from arresting prostitutes -- by a margin of 59-41 percent.

San Francisco's liberal bent led to Election Day margins unseen elsewhere. Barack Obama won 84 percent of the vote to John McCain's 14 percent. Proposition 8 -- which passed statewide and prohibited "gay marriage" -- lost in San Francisco, 75-25 percent.

Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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