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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Gay Rights Advances Likely In New Congress


Wary conservative leaders, as well as gay-rights advocates, share a belief that at least two measures will win approval this year: a hate-crimes bill that would cover offenses motivated by anti-gay bias, and a measure that would outlaw workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Also on the table — although with more doubtful prospects — will be a measure to be introduced Wednesday seeking repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that bans openly gay and lesbian Americans from serving in the military.

All three measures surfaced in previous sessions of Congress, at times winning significant bipartisan backing but always falling short of final passage. This year, with Democrats now in control and many Republicans likely to join in support, the hate-crimes and workplace bills are widely expected to prevail.

"With liberals in control, there's a good possibility they'll both pass," said Matt Barber, a policy director with the conservative group Concerned Women for America. "They're both dangerous to freedom of conscience, to religious liberties, to free speech."

If approved by Congress, the bills would head to the White House. Activists on both the left and right are unsure whether
President Bush would sign or veto them.

For gay-rights leaders — whose efforts to legalize same-sex marriage have been rebuffed by many states — the congressional votes are keenly anticipated after years of lobbying.

"This is a major step in our struggle," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign. "I know there's a lot of despair on the other side."

Both sides can't predict what President Bush will do:

Assuming ENDA and the hate-crimes bill win approval, but not by veto-proof margins, Bush would face a politically sensitive decision of how to respond.

"Does he want to use one of his first vetoes to deny basic job protection to people?" asked Dave Noble, public policy director for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Mat Staver of the conservative [sic] legal group Liberty Counsel worried that Bush would not veto the bills, perhaps as a gesture of respect for Mary Cheney, the lesbian daughter of Vice President Cheney.

However, Matt Barber of Concerned Women for America held out hope that Bush would block the measures. "Hopefully," Barber said, "the president will show that the veto pen is mightier than the politically correct sword."

The question is whether the Human Rights Campaign is seriously trying to engage President Bush now on these issues.

The Liberty Council, Concerned Women for America and the Family Research Council would be better described as "anti-gay activists" rather than "conservatives."