Soulforce, a GLBT civil rights group, has placed 16 billboards in and around Nashville, the hometown of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, condemning his support for the so-called Federal Marriage Amendment, which would ban same-sex unions.

Soulforce’s mission is to end religion-based discrimination of gays and lesbians. They state they want to show not all people of faith support the amendment.

The billboards are the organization’s first foray into the same-sex marriage fight, featuring part of a speech given by deceased civil rights giant Coretta Scott King at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey on March 24, 2004, where she said, “Gay and lesbian people have families, and their families should have legal protections, whether by marriage or civil union. A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages is a form of gay bashing, and it would do nothing at all to protect traditional marriages.”

The signs also include a photograph of Soulforce Executive Director Jeff Lutes with his partner and son. “Soulforce reminds Senator Frist’s hometown that Mrs. King stood for the full equality of lesbian and gay Americans and against homophobia, especially homophobia in the black community,” said Lutes. 

“Mrs. King publicly saluted the gays and lesbians that fought for her freedom in Montgomery and Selma and other places during the civil rights movement, and she compared homophobia to racism, anti-Semitism, and other forms of bigotry that set the stage for repression and violence,” continued Lutes. 

Almost identical to the proposed amendment, which also failed to get enough votes in 2004, the proposed amendment attempted to bar same-sex couples from marrying, block courts and state legislatures from allowing gay marriage, nullify marriages already performed in Massachusetts, the only state in the country where they are currently legal, and according to critics possibly block civil unions and override domestic partner laws.

“It’s important to show that there is a strong stand for GLBT rights in Senator Frist’s own hometown. I think the billboards present a positive message and I applaud Soulforce for their commitment to placing so many billboards here in Nashville,” states Jay Krenson, a Nashville native.

When contacted about the billboards, Senator Frist’s office would only respond by saying, “The amendment protects the right of citizens to enact any benefits or status they choose for same-sex couples in their state. It simply preserves the traditional definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman.”

Despite pressure from right wing activists, support for the amendment fell short of the two-thirds vote needed to send it to the House. Many political strategists believe the push for the amendment was just another way to get conservative support for GOP candidates in the upcoming November elections and to help bolster President Bush’s historically low poll numbers.

“Pandering to the conservative right, at the expense of a minority group, just to help your poll numbers is shameful and reprehensible.  I’m thankful there are groups like Soulforce out there combating the pressures and lies being spewed by men like Senators Frist and Allard,” states Donte Carter, a Nashville resident.

Fighting a similar battle on the state level in Tennessee, the Tennessee Equality Project’s Vote NO on 1 campaign appreciates the targeting of Nashville by Soulfource. “We’re thrilled when anyone else joins our efforts on a national or local level,” said Randy Tarkington, Vote NO on 1 initiative campaign manager. “We appreciate the help in getting our message of equality and fairness out to the Nashville community.”

Earlier this year Soulforce sponsored the Equality Ride, a 51-day cross-country trip to draw attention to schools that bar gay enrollment. They ended their trek on March 26 with a demonstration at West Point where 21 riders were arrested.

More information about Soulforce can be obtained on their Web site www.soulforce.org, and more information about Vote NO on 1 can be found at voteNOon1tn.com.

Photo courtesy of Red Bull

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Photo courtesy of Rumble Boxing Gulch Nashville

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