WASHINGTON -- The US Capitol at their backs, supporters of gay marriage pleaded, demanded, and sang out for equal rights yesterday, hoping they will succeed in the long term but mindful of the hostile political environment they face today.
Opponents of gay marriage, led by President Bush, are trying to amend the Constitution to outlaw gay and lesbian marriages. Voters in 11 states will consider such amendments to state constitutions this fall, and most, if not all, are expected to pass. Even many politicians who support gay rights say they oppose same-sex marriage.
Washington was the final stop for the eight-day bus tour, organized by Marriage Equality California, that traveled from Oakland, Calif., stopping in 10 cities along the way.
"I don't want to be demonized anymore," said Kati Debolt of San Diego, who traveled to Washington with her partner of nine years.
Opponents say recognizing same-sex unions would undermine traditional marriage between a man and a woman, and they contend children are better off with a mother and a father.
About 200 people gathered for yesterday's rally. Many of them signed a petition asking Bush to reconsider his stance. Some couples held placards declaring the years they have been together.
Same-sex marriage is legal only in Massachusetts, the result of a state Supreme Judicial Court ruling. Opponents of such marriages fear other states may follow suit, so they are pushing amendments to state constitutions to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Six states have adopted these amendments.
In Massachusetts, the state House and Senate, sitting in a constitutional convention, must vote a second time in the next session before the issue could go to the voters on the 2006 ballot.
On the federal level, Bush and congressional Republicans have similarly tried to amend the US Constitution, but Senate and House votes failed to attract the required two-thirds support.
The bus tour also lacked support from people expected to be its natural allies. The nation's largest gay rights group, the Human Rights Campaign, said it was unhelpful strategically to discuss gay marriage three weeks before an election.