Foes of gay-marriage scrambling for a response after series of setbacks in federal courts

The Associated Press

FILE - In a Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014 file photo, former Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, E.W. Jackson, center, speaks to the media during a demonstration outside Federal Court in Norfolk, Va. Jackson spoke in favor of the law banning same sex marriage. In Virginia, Utah, Oklahoma and Kentucky, federal judges have struck down part or all of the bans on same-sex marriage that voters approved between 2004 and 2006. Each of the rulings has been stayed, pending appeals, but the trend is unsettling to the activists who oppose gay marriage. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

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By DAVID A. LIEB, DAVID CRARY and RACHEL ZOLL, Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Opponents of same-sex marriage are scrambling to find effective responses, in Congress and state legislatures, to a rash of court rulings that would force some of America's most conservative states to accept gay nuptials.

Some gay-marriage foes are backing a bill recently introduced in both chambers of Congress that would leave states fully in charge of their marriage policies, though the measure stands little chance of passage. In the states, they are endorsing a multitude of bills — some intended to protect gay-marriage bans, others to assert a right, based on religious freedom, to have nothing to do with gay marriages should those bans be struck down.

In Utah, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Virginia, federal judges have voided part or all of the bans on same-sex marriage that voters approved between 2004 and 2006. Each of the rulings has been stayed pending appeals, and a final nationwide resolution may be a few years away in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The trend is unsettling to the activists who oppose gay marriage, and some have called for extraordinary measures in response.

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, known for fighting to display the Ten Commandments in a judicial building, has written to all 50 governors urging them to support a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as between only a man and a woman.

In Missouri, where voters approved a gay-marriage ban in 2004, eight Republican House members filed articles of impeachment against Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon after he ordered his administration to accept joint tax returns from same-sex couples who were legally married in other states. The Republican House leader has yet to schedule the matter for public hearings, but some GOP sponsors insist they are serious.

"The people put it in the constitution that marriage is between one man and one woman — the issue is the governor has absolutely ignored the constitution and the people's will," said Rep. Ron Schieber, a Republican from Kansas City.

The demand for religious exemptions, meanwhile, is widespread. Gay marriage opponents have fought for strong exemptions in every state where lawmakers have already decided the issue. In New York, for example, gay marriage was recognized only after Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state's top two legislators struck an 11th-hour compromise on religious accommodations.

However, the resulting exemptions have generally been limited in scope — and haven't come anywhere near to what gay marriage opponents sought. In Massachusetts and Iowa, where same-sex marriage won recognition through the courts, there are no religious exemptions related to the rulings.

In light of this track record, opponents in red states have been proposing pre-emptive bills with broad accommodations for religious objectors. Most of the bills aim to protect individuals or businesses who, for religious reasons, don't want to serve same-sex couples.

Bills in Ohio, Mississippi, Arizona, Idaho and Oklahoma would allow a person or company to assert a religious freedom defense against a lawsuit from another private party. For example, a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple could defend his decision as a legally protected religious right.

In some states, they have suffered setbacks.

The Kansas House passed a measure last week providing a faith-based legal shield for people who refuse to provide services to gays and lesbians. It details which services would be exempted — ranging from bakeries to adoption agencies to government clerks — and allows faith-based refusal of services to gay couples in any domestic partnership. But the top Republican in the state Senate put a quick stop to the bill's momentum, declaring that a majority of GOP lawmakers in that chamber don't support it.

"A strong majority of my members support laws that define traditional marriage," said Senate President Susan Wagle. "However, my members also don't condone discrimination."