WASHINGTON— U.S. Gay rights activists are celebrating a series of recent legislative and legal victories for same-sex marriage. The advancement of gay rights in the United States comes as other countries adopt tougher anti-gay laws.
Cheers erupted outside Arizona's state capitol building after Governor Jan Brewer vetoed of a bill that would allow business owners with strongly held religious beliefs to deny service to gays and lesbians.
Since the bill's passage by state lawmakers there was growing opposition from major corporations and civil rights groups. Proponents say it was designed, however, to protect businesses like bakeries, flower shops and wedding photographers who may have objections to same-sex marriage.
Arizona State Senator Steve Yarbrough said the measure was about protecting people's right to exercise religion freely. "I have to give credit to the opponents who have turned this into a discrimination bill against gays. It could not be further from that," he said.
Gay rights supporter celebrate
The defeat of the controversial Arizona legislation comes as supporters of gay rights celebrated federal court rulings in four states that struck down bans on same-sex marriage.
In Texas, Nicole Dimetman and her partner won their case after a federal court judge ordered Texas to stop enforcing an 11-year old law against same-sex marriage. Dimetman said the ban violates the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection.
"We always have been equal and the United States Constitution has always protected our equal rights, but now it is explicitly stated and states can not discriminate against us," she said.
But Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said he will appeal the court ruling lifting the same-sex marriage ban. "This is an issue where there are good people on both sides of the issue, and as the court pointed out that this ruling is just one step along the pathway to resolving this.
Supreme Court ruling possible
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia recognize gay marriage. Political analysts say the legal fight over state laws banning it likely will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Gay rights supporters like Sandra Borchers say the latest victories can lead to bigger changes in other states.
"We have enough momentum going that we can now ask for more rights for our LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender] community and for everybody to be equal," said Borchers.
Gay rights activists say that while strides have been made in advancing equal rights for gays in the United States, other countries are moving farther away. In Russia last month, the government banned foreign same-sex couples from adopting Russian children.
Uganda's law spotlighted
And in the East African nation of Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni signed a bill into law that imposes harsh penalties for homosexual acts, including 14 years in jail for first-time offenders and life in prison for repeat offenses.
The Obama Administration strongly condemned the Uganda law, calling it a step backward in the country's protection of human rights. White House Spokesman Jay Carney said, "We will continue to urge the government of Uganda to repeal this abhorrent law and to advocate for the protection of the universal human rights of the LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender] person in Uganda and around the world."
Carney says the United States is reviewing its relationship with Uganda in light of the new law. The United States sends Uganda more than $400 million in aid each year. But Ugandan President Museveni told reporters he would not repeal the law because of pressure from other countries and human rights groups.
"The outsiders cannot dictate to us. This is our country this is our society this is our future. The outsiders will have to live with us or if they do not want, take their aid. Uganda is very rich. We do not need aid," said Museveni.
Like Uganda, more than 80 countries reportedly have laws against homosexual acts, including India. Gay rights activists say that in light of those statistics, they will redouble their efforts in their fight for equal rights.