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Five states could gain marriage equality this year
But two others and the District of Columbia could lose it
Keen News Service
After a 2010 with few marriage equality measures contested outside the courtroom, this year will likely see a number of battles state by state across the country.
Three states plus the District of Columbia are facing the prospect of losing marriage equality, an additional seven states could start the process of amending their state constitutions to ban marriage, and five could gain full marriage. Here are the key states to watch.
States that could win marriage
Rhode Island: Newly elected Governor Lincoln Chafee (I) expressed his support for marriage equality during his inauguration speech January 4. Legislators introduced full marriage bills in both the House and Senate on January 6. Democrats hold large majorities in both chambers, and openly gay House Speaker Gordon Fox (D) is a cosponsor of the bill. The bill may face a bigger struggle in the Senate, where Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed (D) opposes marriage equality.
Maryland: Marriage equality bills are pending in both houses of the legislature, and supporters now form majorities on the key judicial committees that must first approve them.
State Senate Minority Leader Allan H. Kittleman (R), however, said he will introduce a bill to allow civil unions for both same- and opposite-sex couples.
New York: Although Republicans have a two-seat majority in the state senate, Empire State Pride Agenda Executive Director Ross D. Levi said in a press release that LGBT advocates have “picked up at least two ‘yes’ votes.” Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he would sign a marriage equality bill if it reaches his desk.
All three of the above states already recognize marriages of same-sex couples from other jurisdictions.
New Jersey: The state supreme court last June refused to hear a case that claimed the state’s civil union law did not provide full equality. It said the case must first go through the trial court process. Lambda Legal Defense national marriage project director Jennifer Pizer said a trial court attempt is “a sensible next step for us to consider.”
Lambda and the state LGBT rights group Garden State Equality are also working on another round of marriage legislation, although Pizer could not yet share any details
California: The case to overturn Proposition 8, the state ban on same-sex marriage, is in a rather unusual spot. It is awaiting a decision from the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, but the appeals panel said January 4 that it could not render a decision on the measure’s constitutionality until the California Supreme Court rules that there is some state law or authority to justify giving Prop. 8 proponents legal standing to appeal the case in federal court on behalf of California voters.
Pizer said that a Ninth Circuit decision against Proposition 8 would have “a massive positive effect nationwide” as marriage equality would become a reality on both coasts.
She also noted there are “serious efforts underway now” for potential ballot measures in 2012 to secure marriage equality in Maine, Oregon, and Washington.
States that could lose marriage
New Hampshire: LGBT advocates have considered New Hampshire—with a new, veto-proof Republican majority—one of this year’s most serious battlegrounds. But House Majority Leader Rep. D.J. Bettencourt, R-Salem, said January 13 that repealing the state’s year-old marriage equality law is not a Republican priority in 2011. The party wants, instead, to focus on jobs and the economy.
But Bettencourt refused to say he would discourage the introduction of repeal bills. And gay marriage opponents Kevin Smith, executive director of the far-right group Cornerstone Action, and State Rep. David Bates, R-Windham, told the Associated Press they still plan to pursue a repeal.
The executive director of New Hampshire Freedom to Marry, Mo Baxley, said in a statement that she was “pleased” the repeal is not a priority for Republicans but added that her organization is continuing its planned efforts to preserve the existing law.
Iowa: Republicans in the legislature introduced a bill to pursue a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage on January 19, in response to a 2009 ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court that made marriage legal for same-sex couples. The House Judiciary Committee approved the measure on January 24, sending it to the full House.
The change must be approved by two successive legislatures and then ratified by voters. Republicans control the House 60-40, but Democrats have a 26-24 edge in the Senate, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, has said he would block a vote on such a bill.
Several Republican legislators also want to begin impeachment proceedings against the remaining four of the seven justices who joined in the unanimous marriage ruling. The other three justices lost retention elections last November, after right-wing groups campaigned to oust them.
Impeachment would require a simple majority in the House and a two-thirds majority in the Senate, but the judges would be removed immediately if impeached by the House and could be reinstated only if found not guilty after a Senate trial. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told the Cedar Rapids Gazette that Democrats would “shut the place down” if necessary to block an impeachment effort.
Washington, D.C.: A coalition of local anti-gay activists led by Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church in Maryland has been pushing for a referendum on the district’s year-old marriage equality law.
D.C. courts and the district’s Board of Election ruled last year that this would violate a district prohibition on referenda related to the city’s Human Rights Act—which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation. Jackson asked the Supreme Court to consider the case, but on January 18, the justices turned it down without comment.
Marriage foes have vowed to press the issue in Congress, where Republicans have won a majority in the House.
GOP Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio told the Hill newspaper January 24 that he will push for a bill to ban marriage in the District.
States that could win civil union
Hawaii: Acting House Majority Leader Blake Oshiro, who is openly gay, told KITV Channel 4 on January 10 that he wants to pass a civil union bill early in the session. The Hawaii legislature is almost the same as the one that passed a similar bill last year only to see it vetoed by outgoing Republican Governor Linda Lingle.
Current Governor Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat and long-time supporter of equal rights for gays, has said he would support a new bill.
Montana: Montana bans same-sex marriage under the state constitution, but the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a case on behalf of six couples to try and gain the protection of domestic partnerships.
Colorado and Delaware will also likely see civil union bills introduced.
States that could ban marriage
Wyoming: The state House passed a bill on January 24 to refuse recognition of same-sex marriages from out of state. The measure had failed twice in past sessions. It now goes to the state senate, where its chances for passage are good.
Indiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and South Dakota have statutes that prevent same-sex couples from obtaining marriage licenses, but efforts to protect those bans from legal challenges are expected through proposed constitutional amendments.
Lambda’s Pizer noted that anti-gay groups may wait until 2012 to seek introduction of such measures in hopes of using them to rally conservative voters to turn out during a presidential election year, as was done in 2004.
This year, though, Wyoming State Rep. Cathy Connolly (D), the only openly gay member of the legislature, plans to introduce a bill for full marriage equality and one for civil union.
Also, New Mexico Attorney General Gary King issued a non-binding opinion January 4 that same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions would likely be recognized in the state.
Evan Wolfson. executive director of Freedom to Marry, said that this year, “we have the chance to really make some important strides in key states.” He stressed that wins in the states will help sway public opinion and move marriage equality forward on a federal level as well.