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ANTI-GAY LEGISLATION FOCUSING ON `THREAT TO FAMILY' CONCEPT

The Rev. Harry B. Stock "marries" about two dozen same-sex couples a year and prays that someday their vows will be legally binding.

But some state lawmakers are trying to ensure that never will happen.Utah recently passed a law denying legal recognition of same-sex marriages, and a legislator in Alaska is trying to close a loophole that could allow them there.

An attempt to outlaw recognition of same-sex marriage in South Dakota failed in February, but gay leaders think the issue could come up again in the next legislative session.

"I think it's a grave injustice to a body of people who live in a country where we claim by constitutional rights certain freedoms and yet we're denied them because of our sexuality," said Stock, whose flock at the Church of the Disciples, Metropolitan Community Church, is largely gay.

Gay couples are barred from filing joint tax returns. They can't cover each other on their medical insurance policies and sometimes are turned away at hospitals when their partners are critically ill.

Gay activists and conservatives are turning to state legislatures with increasing frequency over gay rights issues, including same-sex marriage and adoption.

More pro-gay rights legislation has been introduced in states this year than ever before, according to a survey published last month in The Washington Blade, a gay weekly.

The newspaper said 38 pro-gay measures and 11 anti-gay measures had been introduced in state legislatures in 1995. That compared to 27 pro-gay and 24 anti-gay state bills in January 1994. Of those, one pro-gay and one anti-gay measure passed, and the pro-gay measure - a domestic partners bill - was vetoed by California Gov. Pete Wilson.

But the anti-gay measures have taken on a new tone this year, attacking homosexuals as undermining the concept of family, say gay rights advocates.

"The same people who would say, `I think it's absolutely wrong for you to fire someone just because she's a lesbian,' would say, `But I don't think she should be allowed to adopt a child,"' said Deanna Duby, a spokeswoman for the liberal People for the American Way.

The same-sex marriage bills in Utah and South Dakota this year were introduced in the wake of a Hawaii lawsuit filed by three gay couples who had been denied marriage licenses.

They maintained that they had the legal right to wed because the state constitution prohibits discrimination based on sex.

Robert H. Knight, director of cultural studies for the conservative Family Research Council in Washington, says legislation to block recognition of same-sex marriages is an absolute necessity.

"The collapse of marriage and family is at the core of all the other social pathologies, from crime to early sexual experimentation among teens to drug abuse," he said. "And to this, I would add homosexual experimentation among young people."