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Gays try to make sense of 'values' vote


Tyrone Turner

In a file photo, Samara Mendoza of Germantown, Md., holds a sign during the "Mayday for Marriage" rally. Held Oct. 15 in Washington, two weeks before the election, the rally illustrated how the values of many evangelical Christians are opposed to gay marriage.

(RNS) The voters have spoken, and many of them said, "Moral values."

What they meant remains the debate among gays, no matter how clear it may be to opponents of same-sex marriage. A ban on those nuptials was approved Nov. 2 in 11 states - everywhere it appeared on a ballot.

Did Republicans use gay marriage to frighten their evangelical base?

"Oh, they pounced on it, they just loved it," said Phyllis Lyon, who wed her partner of 51 years on Feb. 12 in a San Francisco ceremony later found to have violated California law. "It wouldn't have been an issue if they hadn't hyped it."

If the GOP did that, was it fair?

Of course, said Matt Daniels, author of the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. "All parties use all issues all the time to win elections," Daniels said.

"The reality is, this is about a larger set of cultural issues, most of which have nothing to do with same-sex marriage," said Christopher Barron, political director of the gay Log Cabin Republicans.

Reactions are as varied as the gay community - which is, as Warren Arbogast said, "as diverse as the sea is wide."

Arbogast and his longtime partner, Steve Forssell, both 42, were deeply disappointed by the election. The two, born and still living in Washington, D.C., contacted a Canadian attorney and started the application process for permanent residency there.

"We don't want to get married," Arbogast said. "But when 11 states have the opportunity to do the right thing, and all 11 in landslide fashion go against a civil rights measure, it calls into question, do we want to be here? And the answer is no."

That doesn't mean, he added, "that we hate the U.S. or are rescinding our citizenship or hate the president. What it means is, we feel like 'coloreds' in the '60s: good for TV, fun at a party, but certainly not equal."


Fear playing a role

John B. Johnson says gays' inability to speak freely may have figured in the election's outcome.

"There are people who wanted to speak out against the marriage amendment and couldn't for absolute fear," said Johnson, 35, who works in the office of government relations of the Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. "In no democracy can a full hearing of an issue be debated when the people most affected by it are afraid to speak out."

But Daniels, president of the Washington-based Alliance for Marriage, says the election proved democracy works. Lawsuits pushing gay marriage "displayed a contempt for values held by the vast majority of ordinary Americans," he said.

"The American people have this stubborn notion of governing themselves," Daniels said. "They reached for democratic remedies available to them."

Jonathan D. Katz, a professor of gay history at Yale University, said the politicization of gay issues is "not an unusual tactic."

"We saw it in 1952, after the end of World War II," Katz said. Back then, Sen. Joseph McCarthy, R-Wis., led a purge of homosexuals in the government known as the "lavender scare."

Barron of the Log Cabin Republicans disagreed.

"This was much more about the cultural differences between middle America and what many people there view as the 'liberal elite,'" he said. "I believe in the goodness of the American people, and I don't believe 59 million of them voted anti-gay."