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Equal: Marriage for all

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Republican preacher-politician and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is to address a Charleston GOP assembly Oct. 25. During a 2004 West Virginia visit, Huckabee warned that allowing gay marriage could lead to weddings between people and animals. Well, gay wedlock slowly is spreading across America -- but we haven't noticed any nuptials between pets and owners.

Huckabee's peculiar message is well-suited to rural, conservative "red states" like those of Appalachia. Opposition to gay equality is so strong in fundamentalist regions that West Virginia's Legislature banned same-sex weddings in 2000 by passing the state's Defense of Marriage Act. Ever since, evangelical groups have demanded that DOMA be locked into the Mountain State's constitution.

In June, moderates on the U.S. Supreme Court demolished a federal ban with the same name. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote: "DOMA writes inequality into the entire U.S. Code." He said it "demeans" same-sex couples by casting them into inferior status.

Now, American gay and lesbian couples may marry and enjoy hundreds of legal rights provided by wedlock -- under federal law. But West Virginia and similar red states still prohibit same-sex weddings.

However, this state's conservative resistance may be struck down soon. On Tuesday, a federal lawsuit filed in Huntington demanded that the state-level DOMA be declared unconstitutional because it enforces prejudice against gays, making them and their children second-class citizens.

The suit says West Virginia's law brands same-sex families with "a badge of inferiority that invites disrespect in school, on the playground and in every other sphere of their lives." It says the state law hinders their right to shared health insurance, lower tax bills, family leave and other legal benefits.

Two of the plaintiffs are Nancy Michael and Jane Fenton of St. Albans -- a couple who have been together 16 years -- plus their son Drew.

"We have done everything we can to protect and take responsibility for our family," Michael said, "but we worry all the time that it isn't enough. We need the protection that marriage affords."

The West Virginia couple was aided by a national organization that is fighting DOMA bans in other right-wing states. Since the U.S. Supreme Court scuttled DOMA at the federal level, we don't see how the ban can remain legal at state levels.

Year after year, acceptance of gays keeps growing. We hope West Virginia's prejudiced law is struck down, allowing tolerance to blossom in this state.


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