OAKLAND, California (Reuters) - As U.S. gays and lesbians prepare to battle a raft of state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage that will likely be on the ballot next fall, activists are recasting the issue as one that needs to be fought on moral rather than political grounds.
That is the message Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the oldest and leading U.S. grass-roots gay and lesbian coalition, has taken to more than 2,500 gay rights organizers at its annual conference held in Oakland this week.
"What I really want people to understand is rather than seeing these as political contests, these are really profound, unfair, bordering on immoral elections," Foreman told Reuters on Saturday. "Imagine if this was being done to a minority in Kosovo -- people would be outraged."
The conference, due to end on Sunday, is the first national gathering of gay and lesbian organizers since Tuesday's elections in which Texan voters approved, by nearly a 76 percent majority, a state constitutional amendment banning
Opponents, who believe marriage is only between a man and a woman, argue that same-sex marriage is unnatural and damaging to families.
If last year's conference, which came on the heels of elections in which 11 states approved changing their constitutions to ban same-sex marriage, was a time to vent anger and hurt over the defeats, this year the drive is to organize broad-based grass-roots campaigns to defeat more such votes, said Patrick Guerriero, president of the gay advocacy group Log Cabin Republicans.
"We've gone from some of the (2004) post-election anger to a movement that is optimistic about the future," Guerriero said in an interview.
"We need to be more mobilized as a community, more bipartisan in our message," Guerriero said, pointing to the need to engage people of faith, centrist Republicans and conservative Democrats.
It will be a steep hill to climb, activists said.
"We're going to have another 10 to 12 anti-marriage, anti-family recognition constitutional amendments on the ballots next fall," Foreman said. "That's going to be an enormous challenge.'
Two key elements in the strategy to defeat more votes banning same-sex marriage will be reaching out to people of faith and demanding that Democrats, who have long counted on gays and lesbian as core supporters, stand up for the gay community, Foreman said.
"The Democrats' response to gay issues over the last few years has been incoherent and spineless, and that has only worked to their disadvantage," Foreman said. "There is a sense among large gay donors to the Democratic party that they need to have the party take a stand for us."