In Bible Belt, rift emerges in pro-gay marriage movement

Wed Mar 13, 2013 1:27pm EDT
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By Edith Honan

LOUISVILLE, Ky (Reuters) - In Kentucky, a Bible Belt state where voters have passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, the movement to promote gay rights has two factions.

One seeks to overturn discrimination through a legislative path, admitting it faces long odds. The other wants to break down barriers to gay marriage with demonstrations and civil disobedience.

Chris Hartman, head of Kentucky's Fairness Campaign, spends his time lobbying for a nondiscrimination law that would protect gays and lesbians from losing their jobs or being denied housing because of their sexual orientation.

He concedes that the law, which has been proposed every year for a decade and has never been brought to a vote, has little chance of passing any time soon.

Then there is Rev. Maurice Blanchard, who says he is less patient. He is calling for an historic gay rights march on the state capitol on March 26, the day the Supreme Court begins hearing two gay-marriage cases: one on a marriage ban in California and another on a federal law that restricts the definition of marriage to the union of a man and a woman.

The issue has put the two men, both openly gay and in their early 30s, at loggerheads. Hartman says gay marriage is a non-starter for state lawmakers and talk of it will only set back negotiations for more moderate proposals, like a non-discrimination law.

"Marriage is on the forefront of many people's minds, and it's tough to go to the folks who are excited about relationship recognition and be the person to say, 'But that's not where our leaders are,'" said Hartman. "It's not that it's ambitious; it's unrealistic."

Blanchard, who was arrested with his partner in January when they refused to leave the Jefferson County clerk's office after being denied a marriage license, likens his fight to the struggle for black civil rights and says there is no proper time to demand equality.   Continued...

Stephanie Gillett (R) and her partner Cassey Gillett (C), pray during a Sunday morning church service at the Open Door Community Fellowship Church in Louisville, Kentucky, March 2, 2013. In Louisville, an activist and a minister represent the dueling factions of the Bible Belt's nascent gay rights movement. Photo taken March 2, 2013. REUTERS/John Sommers II