Debate over gay civil unions intensifies

Tom Hyde

As one of the 19 Quinnipiac students who attended a recent two-week seminar on the study of the Congress and the media in Washington D.C., I was able to learn first-hand from some of the dominant political personalities in the country about the influence of different interests on the Congress.

Of all the issues raised relating to the agenda of the new Republican-lead Congress, the issue of gay rights elicited the most vocal and passionate debate amongst the conference participants.

Although much of the overall debate stemmed from the comments of only one speaker, students took the opportunity to question several key political players on their opinions of issues relating to civil unions and anti-discrimination laws.

Lori Waters is the Executive Director of the Eagle Forum, a conservative, family values-oriented special interest groups that works to promote the agenda of the far right in Congress through legislative lobbying.

When asked to explain the Forum’s views on gay civil unions and anti-discrimination, Waters emphatically denounced attempts to overturn sodomy laws and the adoption of gay rights legislation throughout the country: “I do not believe that my child should be subjected to the influence of the homosexual community. . . [gays] are not normal.”

Although obvious that the predominant majority of the audience disagreed, as evidenced by jeering and boos, Waters continued by saying that her view is a “moral” position reflective of “her upbringing.”

When asked whether the claim is true that the Christian Coalition funneled millions into the campaigns against the referendums days before the vote, Waters refused to comment.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Tanya Clay of People for the American Way expressed her organization’s commitment to ensuring civil rights for all Americans, including homosexuals. “Civil liberties are the basis for all things that Americans hold dear . . . We should not exclude any American from the right to these freedoms.”

Although Clay did not express whether the group supports federally promoting the rights of gays to marry through recognized civil unions, she did argue that it is an important debate that every state should consider.

Although this issue was in no way a centerpiece of the conference, the issues that it sparked continued debate even after hours amongst the conference-goers. The following morning, a student from Kean University asked Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) whether he would support Waters’ position.

“This is not an issue that needs to be decided at the federal level,” Hagel said. “Each state has the right to pass laws that fit the values of those respective states.”

With the recent presidential candidacy of former Vermont governor Howard Dean (D), the issue is sure to gain national prominence in the 2004 Presidential election. Vermont’s courts legalized gay marriage in 1998, making it the first state in the country to grant gays the rights to have equal protection under state law normally granted to heterosexual couples.

Dean has said that he will work to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which was signed by President Clinton and defines marriage as the union between one man and one woman.

Nineteen states are yet to adopt DOMA as law, leaving avenues open for gay rights activists to gain another state.