Activists Rethink Their Gay-Marriage Tactics

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People show their support for Proposition 8 in Los Angeles

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The concern is that conservatives will use those same tactics — statewide referendums aimed at overruling court decisions or rebuffing reluctant legislators — to restrict other rights. In Arkansas, for example, voters easily passed an initiative that did what state legislators had refused to do: ban adoptions and even foster-parent roles for unmarried couples, including gays. Now the state joins Utah, Florida and Mississippi as a place where gay couples cannot adopt. Trantalis and others are worried that even as the gay rights movement continues to win court victories, those very victories may prompt stronger and stronger backlashes, jeopardizing hard-won rights from local governments and the workplace, including adoption and antidiscrimination measures.

On the Evangelical side, Mohler told TIME that religious conservatives see the threat from the gay rights' agenda as much broader than just an affront to traditional notions of marriage. "Full normalization of homosexuality would eventually mean the end to all morals legislation of any kind," he says, echoing the line of reasoning made famous by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in his dissent in the high court's 2003 decision striking down state laws that made gay sex a crime. (See the Top 10 ballot measures.)

Advocates like Trantalis say gay activists should focus less on marriage and more on simply building coalitions with politicians and others who can be allies in the political process. "We have to really blend in and show others that the LGBT people are no different than real, ordinary, commonplace people," he said. "We go to the same jobs, the same schools, and have the same God."

But such calls for joining the mainstream won't please everyone in the gay community, many of whom feel that they should not have to look and act like everyone else just to enjoy rights that an increasing number of courts are saying are inherently theirs. And for gays in California, who have had full marriage rights for the past six months, giving up on marriage seems a lot like going backward.

Gay rights activists look at the newly elected Democratic majorities in states like New York and see hope for expanding gay marriage despite the setbacks on Election Day. New York governor David Paterson has been an outspoken defender of gay marriage, and some hope to press the legislature there to pass laws allowing it — though conservative Democrats could well block such an effort. And while momentum may ultimately be on the side of advancing gay rights, Mohler says the fight is moving from courthouses to living rooms. "Both sides recognize this is now a battle for the hearts and minds of our neighbors," he says.

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