The battle over lesbian and gay rights has gained increased prominence in the political arena. Discrimination against homosexuals may have been widely accepted in the past, but today such discrimination is strongly debated. In 2004, the presidential candidates as well as members of Congress squared off on whether to enshrine a ban on gay marriage into the Constitution. Analyzing the 106th–108th Congresses reveals that member and district characteristics greatly influence the level of support for gay and lesbian rights. Democrats are far more supportive of pro-gay and -lesbian initiatives than Republicans. Region similarly plays a key role. Southerners are more tepid in their support for gay and lesbian rights than their northern colleagues. At the same time, New England representatives are even more liberal than other northerners. Despite strong opposition to gay marriage within the churches of their communities, African-American and Latino representatives are especially likely to support gay and lesbian rights. Church membership also guides representative behavior, though not always as conventional wisdom might indicate. Catholic representatives are not more hostile to gay and lesbian rights than other representatives. Moreover, the influence of religious affiliation on congressional voting behavior is declining. Constituency characteristics, such as urbanicity and education, also shape representative behavior but play a secondary role.

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