- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 18, 2007

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Aronda Kirby and Digit Murphy were once married to men, received the tax breaks for married couples and were legally permitted to take family leave if their husbands or children got sick. Both women lost those protections when they came out as lesbians, divorced their husbands and set up a new household together with their six children.

With such couples in mind, some homosexual rights advocates who previously fought for “marriage or nothing” are shifting strategies. Rather than fighting to legalize “marriage” for same-sex couples, they’re lobbying for the protections marriage provides.

Those who follow the movement say bills taking that approach that were introduced this year in Rhode Island and Washington state could signal a broader change in tactics, although some same-sex “marriage” advocates fear it could undercut more than a decade of work.

“We’ve had all the rights, so we want them back,” Miss Murphy said. “We don’t care how we get them.”

Homosexual rights proponents have had to accept less than “marriage” before. Court decisions forced New Jersey and Vermont to adopt civil unions. Connecticut’s legislature passed a civil-unions bill even though many homosexual rights activists there had pressed for “marriage.”

“It’s very new,” said Washington state Sen. Edward Murray, a homosexual. “If I had suggested this strategy a year or two years ago, I would have been run out of my district.”

Advocates in Rhode Island have introduced bills to legalize same-sex “marriage” every year since 1997, but they’ve gone nowhere. So this year, in addition to filing “marriage” legislation, they hope to have some success with six new bills that focus on incremental rights rather than the label of “marriage.”

One would allow same-sex parents to take family leave if a partner or a partner’s children fall ill. Another bill would give homosexuals the right to plan their partners’ funerals.

In Washington, similar rights would be granted under a domestic-partnership bill. Homosexual leaders such as Mr. Murray adopted the approach after losing a court case they hoped would lead to same-sex “marriage.”

Same-sex “marriage” advocates in both states say they’re still committed to “marriage” and will still support “marriage” bills — even if those efforts are likely to fail. They say they are testing whether lawmakers who reject same-sex “marriage” will approve rights that enjoy more popular support.

“The holdup is about marriage, not about the protections,” said Jenn Steinfeld, who leads the advocacy group Marriage Equality RI. “So we’re giving them an opportunity to show us that.”

But the shift has critics both in and outside the homosexual rights movement.

Evan Wolfson, a homosexual rights lawyer who heads the national advocacy group Freedom to Marry, says anything short of “marriage” relegates homosexuals to second-class status. He said a two-pronged approach might be temporarily appropriate in some places, but he questioned whether advocates in Rhode Island and Washington pushed hard enough before switching tactics.

“What I am against is us going into the conversation bargaining against ourselves,” he said. “You don’t even get half a loaf by asking for half a loaf.”

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