Feb. 14, 2011— -- Advocates for same-sex marriage marked Valentine's Day with a nationwide campaign to tout the merits of gay love and urge greater legal protections for it.
From California to Texas to Illinois, activists are organizing trips to courthouses and county clerks' offices to request marriage licenses, despite laws in those states and 42 others that forbid gay couples to wed.
"We're going to ask for our marriage license and get denied," Rex Fender, 22, said outside a San Diego courthouse.
She wants to marry her partner of two years, Rudi Redman, 23.
"Our love is just as legitimate as everyone else's, and we want that to be recognized," she said. "On this day of love, we want people to see we're proud about our love."
Organizers from GetEQUAL and Marriage Equality USA, two gay rights groups coordinating the campaign, said 37 events were scheduled to take place in 13 states, with most taking place in California and Texas.
"People across the country have decided that enough is enough, and have committed to organizing in their own communities in order to draw attention to their desire to marry the person they love," said GetEQUAL director Robin McGehee.
Meanwhile, New York City-based advocacy group Freedom to Marry launched what it called the largest-ever national TV ad campaign aimed at educating the public on gay love and why marriage rights matter to same-sex couples.
"No one should be treated differently for any reason. We're all human," Keith, an African-American man who said he has been married to his wife, Antoinette, for 31 years, says in the video ad.
The ad was slated to run for the first time on CNN today. The group said it would raise and spend $10 million in the next three years to support same-sex marriage.
"As Americans see their gay and lesbian friends, families and coworkers in loving and committed relationships, they realize there is no good reason to withhold the protections and support that only come with marriage," Freedom to Marry spokeswoman Thalia Zepatos said. "It is as simple as the Golden Rule."
Polls show Americans narrowly divided on legalization of gay marriage, with 47 percent in favor and roughly 50 percent opposed, according to the most recent ABC News-Washington Post poll. But the numbers in the past decade have continued to move in same-sex marriage supporters' favor.
The Valentine's Day campaign comes as lawmakers in several states weigh new legislation to expand marriage rights, or impose new restrictions, related to same-sex couples.
State legislators in Maryland and Rhode Island will consider bills this week that would legalize gay marriage, while supporters in New York are trying to revive a measure that was narrowly defeated about a year ago.
Meanwhile, bills pending in Indiana and Wyoming would impose constitutional bans on the gay unions, while proposed legislation in Iowa and New Hampshire would repeal existing marriage rights for gay couples and reimpose a ban.
"Marriage is the union of husband and wife for a reason: These are the only unions that can make new life and connect children in love to their mom and dad," National Organization for Marriage chairwoman Maggie Gallagher told Maryland lawmakers last week. Extending marriage rights to same-sex couples "doesn't just add more people to marriage, it changes marriage."
Gay Marriage in Five States
Five states and the District of Columbia allow gay marriage, six states perform civil unions bestowing legal rights equivalent to marriage, and several states offer same-sex couples limited legal protections short of a formal union.
Thirty states have constitutional amendments banning gay marriage.
"This is the next frontier," Human Rights Campaign senior strategist Brian Ellner said of the same-sex marriage fight. "Marriage is the way society has traditionally recognized relationships."
Ellner, who's leading the push for marriage equality in New York, said that successful repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy has given momentum to the effort and provided a blueprint for lobbying on the state level.
"It was important to have a bipartisan coalition to repeal "don't ask, don't tell," and I'm hopeful that that kind of coalition can come together again on marriage," he said. " Equality should not be a partisan issue, and more and more prominent Republicans like Laura Bush, Dick Cheney and Ted Olson are supporters of marriage equality."
President Obama, who has opposed extending marriage rights to gays and lesbians, also recently signaled that his views also might be changing.
"My feelings are constantly evolving," Obama told reporters in December about his position on gay marriage after Congress approved a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell."
"I have friends, I have people who work for me, who are in powerful long-lasting gay or lesbians unions.
"My baseline is a strong civil union that affords them legal protections," he said. "I recognize from their perspective, it's not enough."