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Gay rights gains piling up; battles still ahead

By David Crary

AP National Writer

LAST UPDATED: 07:08 a.m. HST, Nov 05, 2013

NEW YORK >>  In Maine, a congressman running for governor came out as gay. In Hawaii, lawmakers girded for a vote to legalize same-sex marriage. And in the U.S. Senate, seven Republicans joined the Democrats in a landmark vote to ban workplace discrimination against gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.

From one end of the country to the other, the overlapping developments on a single day underscored what a historic year 2013 has been for the U.S. gay-rights movement -- "the gayest year in gay history," according to Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign, the movement's largest advocacy group.

Yet each of Monday's developments, while heralded by activists, revealed ways in which the gay-rights debate remains complex and challenging for many Americans.

Republicans, for example, are increasingly split on how to address gay-rights issues -- some want to expand their party's following, while others want to satisfy the religious conservatives who make up a key part of the GOP base. More than 40 percent of Americans remain opposed to legalizing same-sex marriage. And even some prominent gays remain uncertain whether they should make their sexual orientation known to the world at large.

Mike Michaud, the Democratic congressman from Maine, said he came out to dispel "whisper campaigns" about his sexuality as the three-way race for governor began to take shape. Through his six terms, he'd never before spoken publicly about his sexual orientation, and he broke the news to his mother only hours before releasing his statement.

In Hawaii, where the state House is debating a Senate-passed gay-marriage bill, thousands of citizens have signed up to testify -- and the majority of those who've spoken thus far oppose the measure.

And in Washington, even as gay-rights supporters celebrated the Senate's backing of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, conveyed his opposition and left it unclear whether the GOP-controlled House would even vote on the bill, known as ENDA.

Boehner "believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs," said his spokesman, Michael Steel.

Richard Socarides, a former Clinton White House adviser on gay issues, said he was on the Senate floor in 1996 when an earlier version of ENDA lost by a single vote.

"It's poignant for me that it's taken 17 years to get another vote on something as basic as workplace discrimination," he said.

"Even though we're making rapid progress on marriage equality, and the entire movement seems unstoppable, there are still big pockets of resistance," Socarides added. "It's going to cost a lot of money and require a lot of work to get us to where anti-gay discrimination no longer exists."

Monday's 61-30 vote on ENDA demonstrated that the Senate's Republican minority could not muster the votes needed to block the bill by filibuster. The legislation could win final Senate passage by week's end.

Current federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, race and national origin. But it doesn't stop an employer from firing or refusing to hire workers because they are lesbian, gay bisexual or transgender. The bill would bar such discrimination by employers with 15 or more workers.

Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have approved laws banning workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and 17 of them also prohibit such discrimination based on gender identity.

Sainz, a vice president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the most striking aspect of the ENDA debate was the division surfacing in the Republican Party -- with several prominent GOP senators supporting the bill and yet Boehner signaling his opposition even before the Senate vote was held.

"There is no doubt that the American public is changing on this issue very quickly," Sainz said. "That's what makes what Boehner did today such a head-scratcher."

The Senate vote on ENDA was among a series of major victories for the gay-rights movement this year, highlighted by two Supreme Court decisions in June. One ruling cleared the way for ending a ban on same-sex marriages in California; the other struck down a 1996 law passed by Congress that banned federal recognition of same-sex marriages.

Gay marriage is now legal in 14 states and the District of Columbia, and bills are pending this week that would add Hawaii and Illinois to that group.

If the House does indeed balk at passing ENDA, it could increase pressure from gay-rights activists on the White House to issue an executive order on barring anti-gay workplace discrimination by federal contractors. Gay rights groups have criticized President Barack Obama for refusing to take that step; he has been saying that congressional action would be preferable.

In Maine, Michaud made his disclosure by means of a written statement provided to The Associated Press, the Portland Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News. He referred to "whisper campaigns, insinuations and push-polls" aimed at getting voters to wonder whether he's gay.

"Allow me to save them the trouble with a simple, honest answer: 'Yes I am. But why should it matter?'" he wrote.

"That may seem like a big announcement to some people. For me, it's just a part of who I am, as much as being a third-generation mill worker or a lifelong Mainer. One thing I do know is that it has nothing to do with my ability to lead the state of Maine."

Michaud is in a tight three-way race with Paul LePage, the Republican incumbent, and wealthy independent Eliot Cutler.

MaryEllen FitzGerald, a pollster from Critical Insights in Portland, predicted Michaud's announcement would have little impact on the race for governor.

"He is a politician who has been in the public eye for a significant amount of time," she said. "I don't think his sexual orientation is generally going to be a factor."


Associated Press writers Donna Cassata in Washington, Oskar Garcia in Honolulu and David Sharp in Portland, Maine, contributed to this report.

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pcman wrote:
Perhaps the fairest way to pass same sex equality across the country is to eliminate the words "perversion" and "pervert" from the dictionary and let them all have legal equality, including polygamists, incest performers, rapists, etc.
on November 5,2013 | 08:01AM
localguy wrote:
Do that and all the heterosexual couple will be upset. They just love playing those kinds of games in the bedrooms at night.
on November 5,2013 | 02:23PM
Kuokoa wrote:
"When the godly are in authority, the people rejoice. But when the wicked are in power, they groan. Proverbs 29:2" And yet those oppoed are groaning.
on November 5,2013 | 08:23AM
walaau808 wrote:
Those opposed are groaning - because THE WICKED ARE IN POWER!
on November 5,2013 | 09:15AM
localguy wrote:
The wicked ones are the only people who know how to have fun, real party animals. And since science has proven there is no God, the bible was written by us lowly humans, just a work of fiction.
on November 5,2013 | 02:24PM
hawaiikone wrote:
Still waiting for your revelation....
on November 5,2013 | 03:09PM
ejkorvette wrote:
Give the Gay, LBGT, Homosexuals, Trisexuals, Metrosexuals, TransGender/Bender their own island paradise. Just make sure it is far away from civilization as it is known. Then they can procreate and do whatever they want to do and never have to worry about opposition or being denied any rights.
on November 5,2013 | 11:19AM
browniegirl wrote:
Yikes. Remember Anita Bryant?
on November 5,2013 | 12:28PM
localguy wrote:
ejkorvette - Sorry, not going to happen. You will just have to learn to get along with everyone else as we have all done. Hmmm, did you attend the Nei's failing educational system??
on November 5,2013 | 02:25PM
daniwitz13 wrote:
This article illustrates what I've been saying, Gays are unknowns. This Congressman, six terms in office, and to quell rumors comes "out" Gay. Seems that all his grown -up life, six terms in office with colleges, friends and Family, they DON'T know for sure. He has to "tell" his MOTHER hours before his disclosure. What about the "claim" of being born "that" way?
on November 5,2013 | 11:55AM
localguy wrote:
daniwitz13 - Is there a point to your comment? Doesn't make any sense at all. Hmmm, did you attend the Nei's failing educational system??
on November 5,2013 | 02:26PM
DowntownGreen wrote:
on November 5,2013 | 02:44PM
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