BOSTON (Aug. 11)—With the presidential election approaching, gay rights advocates are working in Massachusetts and across the nation to bring national attention to the issue of same-sex marriage.

Two gay marriage proponents protest in Washington, DC.

"This election year, we want to make sure everybody hears us loud and clear: Marriage is a civil right owed to all couples—gay, straight, or otherwise," said Mary Kleibold of the Boston-based advocacy group The Future Belongs To Us. "This year, the nation's gays and lesbians will be sending a clear message to the religious right: You can no longer ignore us."

Proponents of gay marriage have reason to be optimistic. Earlier this year, state judges in Massachusetts and California ruled to permit same-sex unions, and President Bush's subsequent proposal for a constitutional ban on gay marriage was voted down by Congress.

Invigorated by victories like these, Bill Yaeger, a lawyer and co-chairman of the activist group Pride Now, said his group "plans to throw a spotlight on the gay-marriage issue" before November.

"My group plans to use the next election to galvanize support for our cause," Yaeger said. "Every concerned voter in America needs to realize that the gay-rights movement is growing larger every day. It's time to sit up, take notice, and do something."

Yaeger said he does not expect the battle to legalize gay marriage to be easy.

"Even if we don't win any serious legislative battles, we'll get people talking," Yaeger said. "The issue might help to mobilize political forces in America. I just have the feeling that we're onto something big right now, and that this year will go down in history as the year the tide turned for gay rights."

Columbus, OH, activist Jerry Farmer said "it's ridiculously outdated" to deny gays the right to file joint tax returns, receive family health-insurance benefits, and enjoy inheritance rights.

"Many politicians are frightened by the taboo topic of gay marriage," Farmer said. "But we're not going to let the bigotry of a handful of conservative policy makers silence us. It's time to let America tell Washington what it thinks about gay men and women. We're not living in the dark ages anymore. From Oregon to Ohio, it's time for the people to stand up and be heard."

Farmer said the issue could motivate more Americans to vote.

"The gay marriage issue might even show up on the ballots as a referendum in some states," Farmer said. "If so, we may influence voters in ways we never imagined."

"Even if the gay-marriage issue only motivates a few thousand people to come out to the polls, we'll be able to look back and know we've done our part to influence this country," Farmer added.

San Francisco gay options trader Barry Dilham supports the idea of making same-sex marriage a larger part of the national dialogue.

"Conservatives don't want us to be heard," Dilham said. "But, if we keep up the pressure, the religious right will be forced to acknowledge that this controversial issue is out there and respond."