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A year after marriage ruling, LGBT rights struggles continue

NEW YORK (AP) — On a Friday evening almost a year ago, the White House was awash in rainbow-colored lights, celebrating the momentous Supreme Court ruling that led to nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage. Across the country, gays and lesbians embraced and partied and in some cases scrambled to arrange can’t-wait-another-day weddings.

“Love Wins!” was the catchphrase of the moment.

Since that ruling last June 26, same-sex marriage has been widely accepted as the law of the land, with only small pockets of defiance. Yet it has not been a year for LGBT-rights activists to bask in triumph, as starkly underscored by the June 12 attack that killed 49 patrons and staff at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

“We’re still living with this random violence that can strike at any time,” said Ken Darling, owner of a gay bar in Minneapolis. “We had the White House lit up with colors, the Supreme Court finally acknowledges our right to marry, and at the same time this kind of stuff can happen.”

In the aftermath of the attack, some conservative leaders have expressed a new degree of empathy for LGBT Americans — raising the question of whether the massacre could change the political equation on LGBT rights the way the 1963 Birmingham, Alabama, church bombing and other acts of violence against blacks helped change the course of the civil rights movement. Thus far, however, there’s been no rush by Republican politicians to back a pending LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination bill in Congress or to enact state-level versions of that bill in the many states, including Florida, that lack such protections.

Even before the Orlando attack, LGBT gains were being challenged by many of the social conservatives who had opposed same-sex marriage. They have asserted that religious freedom is threatened by various legal advances for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, and they are trying to prevent transgender people from accessing public bathrooms and locker rooms on the basis of their gender identity.

Indeed, the “Love Wins!” slogan of a year ago has a blunt successor: “We Just Need To Pee.”

LGBT-rights groups are playing both defense and offense, city by city and state by state. They’re working to persuade more jurisdictions to broaden nondiscrimination protections, while fending off lawsuits and legislation by their opponents that threaten to weaken such protections.

“There’s no question that momentum is on our side for equality,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “But there’s no question our opponents are working harder than they ever have before to roll back our rights where they can.”

Among the conservative groups engaged in multiple lawsuits is the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom. Earlier this year it lost a bid to overturn a $13,000 fine against an upstate New York couple who, citing their religious beliefs, did not want two lesbians married at their wedding venue.

Kristen Waggoner, the alliance’s senior vice president of legal advocacy, said such cases reflect “bullying tactics” by gay-rights supporters.

“The Supreme Court decision has sharply increased the polarization of our culture,” she said. “It’s not just about marriage. It’s about silencing any dissent, and basically ridding our culture and marketplace of those who disagree.”

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