It's not even Valentine's Day and
legislators across America are talking about gay love, literally.
Common wisdom would suggest that after
losing gay marriage fights in three states on November 4 lawmakers
would shy away from the subject. In fact, the opposite is true.
This year more states will discuss marriage equality, not merely
defending “traditional” marriage, than ever before. Many are
stressing the need for more dollars in a weak economy. Gay weddings
have created a new economic sector in Massachusetts. The shrinking
number of Republican lawmakers might also be contributing to the
In the six state New England region,
where two states – Connecticut and Massachusetts – already offer
gay marriage, legislators are discussing granting marriage for gay
and lesbian couples in earnest.
Lawmakers in four states – Rhode
Island, Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire – will be reviewing gay
marriage bills throughout the legislative session.
Activists in Vermont seem fairly
confident their state is about to turn rainbow colored. Vermont was
the first state to offer gay and lesbian couples civil unions in
Beth Robinson, chairwoman of Vermont
Freedom To Marry, believes the likelihood of the gay marriage bill
being introduced next week passing is “very high.”
In New Jersey, another state that
currently offers civil unions, momentum for full marriage is at full
The state's governor, John Corzine (D),
is on board with extending marriage from civil unions.
“The chances are strong,” Steven
Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality told The Washington
If enacted, New Jersey would become the
first state to legislatively provide gay marriage, rather than by
court order. California nearly became that state when lawmakers
twice approved a gay marriage bill, but Governor Arnold
Schwarzenegger, who now says he supports gay marriage, vetoed the
“It will happen this year,”
Also likely to happen is gay marriage
by another name in Washington state. The state currently bans gay
marriage in its constitution, but a 2007 approved domestic
partnership law is being expanded to include all the remaining areas
currently only granted to heterosexual married couples.
The bill is being sponsored by openly
gay Senator Ed Murray, a Seattle Democrat who sponsored the state's
domestic partnership law in 2007, while openly gay Rep. Jamie
Pederson (D-Seattle) is sponsoring the measure in the House.
Public hearings on the so-called
“everything but marriage” bill started this week. Its sponsors
say they have strong support for the bill with 20 senators and 60
representatives already signed on.
Gay marriage faces a less certain fate
in New York where it was feared that the leadership had traded away a
gay marriage bill for the political support of three prominent
Senator Pedro Espada Jr, Senator Ruben
Diaz Sr. of the Bronx, and Senator Carl Krugen of Brooklyn each were
threatening to leave the Democratic party if Senator Malcolm A.
Smith, who has promised to bring a gay marriage bill to a vote, would
be made leader of the chamber.
Diaz made it abundantly clear that he
could not vote for gay-affirming leadership.
In the end, Smith wrestled into
control, and the state's governor, David Paterson (D), has pledged to
sign a gay marriage bill. But the senate leadership fight suggests
that passing a gay marriage bill will require a great amount of
political capital. Political capital Smith may no longer possess.
In two states – California and Iowa –
gay marriage may be decided by court order.
Gay activists have asked the California
Supreme Court to invalidate a constitutional amendment that defines
marriage as a heterosexual union. Voters in the state approved
Proposition 8 on November 4 by 52%. The measure yanked back a May
Supreme Court decision granting gays and lesbians the right to marry
in the state.
The state's attorney general, Jerry
Brown, agrees with gay marriage proponents. In his filing to the
court, he said the amendment should be thrown out because it repeals
previously constitutionally protected rights.
Arguments in the case will be heard in
March and a decision is expected by summer.
In Iowa, the state Supreme Court is
expected to rule on the constitutionality of limiting marriage to
On August 31, 2007 an Iowa District
Court judge ruled the state's ban on gay marriage unconstitutional.
A pair of Iowa State University undergraduates, Sean Fritz and Tim
McQuillan, quickly found a judge and married before the state Supreme
Court issued a stay on the lower court's decision.
Lawmakers in Hawaii will also review
the details of gay and lesbian nuptials. A hearing on a bill that
would permit gay civil unions is scheduled for today. House Bill 444
is being sponsored by Democratic House Majority Leader Blake Oshiro.
The Hawaii Supreme Court was the first
to rule laws limiting marriage to heterosexual unions were
unconstitutional in 1993, but the court issued a stay in the matter.
By 1998, voters had passed by a large majority (70%) a constitutional
amendment banning gay marriage. (The Hawaii ruling also prompted
passage of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.)
Hawaii activists believe the bill will
sail through the House, but might run into turbulence in the Senate.
New Mexico Senator Cisco McSorley (D)
is sponsoring a domestic partnership bill that would extend
marriage-like benefits to gay and lesbian couples.
New Mexico falls in the small category
of states that have not acted for or against gay marriage. The state
has come close to passing a domestic partner law in the past and the
state's governor, Bill Richardson (D), has promised to sign it.
“This has been before the Legislature
before and has almost passed,” Dan Tapper, a member the Las Cruces
chapter of the gay-affirming group Parents, Families and Friends of
Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), told a group of gay marriage backers in
Las Cruces. “Hopefully, with a slight change in the composition of
our delegation, we might be able to have it passed.”
Finally, Utah will consider gay unions
as part of a so-called Common Ground Initiative. Equality Utah, the
state's largest gay rights advocacy group, enlisted the support of
two openly gay Utah legislators to introduce five bills to the state
Legislature. Three bills would bring greater equality to gays and
lesbians in the areas of hospitalization, medical care, housing,
employment and probate rights.
And a pair of bills would create a
domestic partner registry for gay and lesbian couples by repealing a
part of Utah's constitutional marriage amendment.
A recent Salt Lake Tribune poll,
however, suggest that the domestic partnership bill might be in
trouble. The poll found a large majority (70%) of Utah voters oppose
any changes to the Utah Constitution that would allow gay civil