Last week, I attended the first meeting of the year for the friendly folks of Charleston's own Alliance For Full Acceptance to see what was what in the wake of the group's Amendment 1 defeat in November.
For those out of the loop, Amendment 1 was a statewide constitutional amendment referendum question that outlawed gay marriage.
AFFA President Susie Prueter opened the meeting with some hopeful words: "Yes, we lost the amendment battle, but we're looking ahead." She then introduced Judi O'Kelley, the regional director of Lambda Legal, the nation's oldest and largest law organization, who brought both bad and not-so-bad news to the gathering.
It should be noted that O'Kelley and her husband Charles, a University of Georgia law school professor, were the lead plaintiffs in O'Kelley v. Perdue (2004-06) which sought unsuccessfully to strike down the State of Georgia's constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage.
With regard to the several state amendments that now outlaw gay marriage, O'Kelley related that the current state of affairs for legal challenges was not great.
Efforts to challenge gay marriage bans through the courts have been undermined because the bans have become the law itself and as such, challenges to these amendments would have to rely on the safeguards of the equal protection clause in the federal constitution.
"I'd be surprised if gay advocacy groups bring federal lawsuit challenges given the current political climate, but the courts will change [personnel] eventually," said O'Kelley. "We don't see any amendment where we can realistically bring a challenge on a federal level."
Sigh. But the not-so-bad news was not so bad.
Lambda Legal and groups like it are challenging the legal standing of conservative plaintiffs using the gay marriage amendments to attack domestic partner benefits programs established by employers.
Also in the sights are challenges to amendments with unintended effects, like those in Ohio where the anti-gay marriage advocates got so far ahead of themselves that they inadvertently removed criminal domestic violence protections for straight women cohabitating with men.
O'Kelley urged AFFA members to remember the successes of the Amendment 1 campaign and suggested concentrating on local achievements like county-wide domestic partnerships and nondiscrimination policies.
"Local work might not be challenged when representatives vote their consciences and the results affect their neighbors," she said. "Framing the debate on employees can bring the fairness debate to a wider audience."
Prueter detailed a whole host of projects on tap for AFFA in the new year, including fund-raising for media campaigns, new member recruitment (not to be confused with bringing someone over to "the dark side"), a GLBT film festival, legislative outreach, and coalition-building with local groups and associations such as the Charleston County School Board.
"Finally, with the shift in Congress, we are in a place to be proactive rather than reactive with regards to legislation," said Preuter. "I knew the 2004 election would bring a free-for-all assault on the GLBT community. However, Bush's leadership has been poor and thankfully, fair-minded Americans are changing the political climate.
"AFFA intends to stay with this wave and help push the pendulum towards hate crimes legislation and workplace protections — these would be huge victories."
Well, I certainly hope so, because inequality and discrimination of any sort diminishes all of us on a personal level, tarnishes our existing institutions (like marriage), and exposes America's false piety to the larger world.