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What's Next for the Gay Rights Movement?

Scales of Justice over linked male and female symbols, on marble texture, GAY RIGHTS AP / CBS

Just days after Saturday's historic passage of a stand-alone Senate bill repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," David Brock, founder and CEO of the liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America, has announced the launch of Equality Matters - a new media initiative that aims to promote lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality.

The initiative, which Brock describes in a press release as a "communications war room for gay equality," comes as activists start to shift their focus to other issues in the fight for gay rights.

"Yesterday was a very important breakthrough," Richard Socarides, who will be the president of Equality Matters, said in a Sunday interview with the New York Times. "President Obama's comments, especially following the vote, were very significant, where he for the first time connected race and gender to sexual orientation under the banner of civil rights."

Socarides argued that gay rights advocates can not afford to waste time basking in their success in repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

"We will celebrate this important victory for five minutes," he said, "and then we have to move on, because we are the last group of Americans who are discriminated against in federal law and there is a lot of work to do."

With the repeal of "Don't Ask," as well as the passage of 2009's hate crimes bill making assaults based on sexuality a federal crime, two of four overarching legislative goals of gay rights advocates remain. They are (1) passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would make it illegal for employers to make decisions about hiring, firing, promoting and/or paying someone based on his or her sexual orientation; and (2) repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman for the purpose of all federal laws.

Neither initiative has gained steam in Congress under the Obama administration. Mr. Obama himself says he does not support same-sex marriage, opting instead for a stance that favors civil unions for gay couples, though he signaled openness to changing that position in October.

Mr. Obama's Justice Department defended the "Defense of Marriage Act" in court, even though the Department made clear it does not support it. After a district judge in July ruled that the law is unconstitutional, the Obama administration chose to appeal the ruling.

Many gay rights advocates have expressed disappointment with the administration for its perceived inaction, or silence, on gay issues.

"Most Americans believe that gays and lesbians are entitled to the same rights and responsibilities as their fellow citizens, including now over 50% who believe in marriage equality," Socarides wrote in a Dec. 19 blog post. "Yet in Washington during these last two years, even with the historic passage of 'don't ask, don't tell' repeal, we were unable to fully transform favorable public opinion into the powerful and undeniable force for change that it should have been."

Progressives are likely to face a steep battle in repealing the Defense of Marriage Act in the new Congress - which will be significantly more conservative than the current body thanks to GOP gains in November  - and some believe the issue has a better chance in the courts.

Meanwhile, despite a number of polls indicating widespread public support for the repeal of "Don't Ask," some Republican congressmen have already vowed to fight it.

Republican Virginia Del. Bob Marshall says he is drafting legislation that would ban gays from serving in the Virginia National Guard. "This policy [to allow gays to serve openly] will weaken military recruitment and retention, and will increase pressure for a military draft,'' he said in explaining the effort.

Marshall also lambasted the integration of openly gay men and women into the military as a "social experiment with our troops and our national security."

"After 232 years of prohibiting active, open homosexuals from enlisting in our military, President Obama and a majority in Congress are conducting a social experiment with our troops and our national security," Marshall said. "In countries where religions and cultures find homosexual acts immoral, the Obama administration's repeal policy will work to the detriment of all American troops in securing local cooperation with our nation's foreign policy goals."

Brock said fighting the "ferocious fundamentalism in the Republican Party and the conservative movement" was one of Equality Matters' primary goals.

"Traditional conservatives and the Tea Party movement are united only in their contempt for equal rights for all Americans and a desire to return America to a 19th century idyll," he said, adding in an interview with the Times that the group has no plans to compromise its goals.

"We believe the big battle is full equality, which is gay marriage," he said.

Lucy Madison
Lucy Madison is a political reporter for You can read more of her posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.
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