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February 24. 2012

Full marriage bills advance in three states

Washington governor signs law  but New Jersey’s vetoes it

Olympia, Wash.--Marriage equality advanced in three states last week, with Washington’s governor signing a bill, New Jersey’s governor vetoing one, and Maryland’s passing the state House, seen as the more difficult chamber.

“As governor for more than seven years, this is one of my proudest moments,” Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said as she signed the state’s marriage equality bill on February 13. “And most surely today is a proud day in the history of the legislature and the state of Washington.”

“It is a day historians will mark as a milestone for equal rights. A day when we did what was right, we did what was just, and we did what was fair,” she continued. “We stood up for equality and we did it together--Republicans and Democrats, gay and straight, young and old, and a variety of religious faiths.”

“I’m proud of who and what we are in this state,” Gregoire noted.

The law will go into effect on June 7, unless opponents gather over 120,000 valid signatures to force a referendum. Anti-gay groups filed paperwork to begin gathering signatures minutes after the law was enacted, but even before their applications were approved, equality advocates started a counter-campaign, called “Decline to Sign Referendum 74.”

Marriage opponents have until June 6 to gather the signatures. If they are successful, the law will go on November’s ballot. Pro-gay activists would then launch an effort to educate voters to vote yes on the referendum to retain the law, instead of voting no.

In 2009, Washington voters upheld the state’s sweeping domestic partner law, which gave all the state benefits and responsibilities of marriage without the name, one of the few LGBT victories in a statewide initiative race.

Last November, 55 percent of respondents in a statewide poll said they would vote to uphold marriage equality.

The marriage equality bill, put forward by Gregoire herself, passed the House of Representatives on a 55-43 vote, a week after the Washington Senate approved it 28-21. Despite her Catholic upbringing, Gregoire’s stance on full same-sex marriage has evolved over her tenure as governor, at least in part because of her daughters, who described it as the civil rights battle of their generation.

A veto in New Jersey

On the other side of the nation, however, marriage fared less well, as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed his state’s marriage equality bill on February 17. Christie had promised a veto, saying that he instead wanted the issue decided by voters.

That stance earned him the ire of civil rights leaders across the board, who said a civil right should not be put to a public vote. They noted that anti-segregation and other civil rights measures probably would not have passed had they been left to the whim of the majority of voters in a number of states.

The Senate voted 24-16 in favor of the bill on February 13, followed three days later by a 42-33 vote approving it in the Assembly. While those aren’t the votes needed to overturn Christie’s veto, lawmakers have two years to gather more support to do so.

“We are disappointed that Governor Christie did not do what is right for New Jersey families, but we are not discouraged,” said Lambda Legal deputy legal director Hayley Gorenberg. “There are many roads to justice, and Gov. Christie’s veto is an unfortunate detour to marriage equality for New Jersey’s same-sex couples and their families.”

“We’ll continue to make our case for equality with our plaintiffs in court. We also stand by our colleagues at Garden State Equality, working to gain support for a veto override in the legislature,” Gorenberg continued.

New Jersey has a civil union law, but the state’s human rights commission has declared that it is short of the full equality mandated in a 2006 state supreme court decision. That ruling, however, left it to the legislature to decide what construct to use for marriage equality, and lawmakers chose civil union.

Lambda Legal is currently representing plaintiffs in a case filed last June that argues that relegating same-sex couples to civil union instead of full marriage violates the New Jersey constitution. A trial in the case is expected in early 2013, following last November’s ruling against a dismissal.

Maryland House passes measure

In Maryland, a same-sex marriage bill passed the House of Delegates on a 72-67 vote, and may be voted on by the senate as early as this week. Gov. Martin O’Malley has promised to sign the legislation, which died in the House last year. The senate passed last year’s bill 25 to 21.

In an even more startling change, former Vice President Dick Cheney was apparently stumping in favor of same-sex marriage, with one Republican delegate, Wade Kach, being offered a chance to speak to Cheney before telling the Baltimore Sun that hearing testimony from same-sex couples changed his mind.

Cheney in 2004 said that he believed same-sex marriage was an issue for individual states to decide, and while much of his party’s national leadership was pushing for a federal constitutional amendment to bar same-sex marriage, he refused to give it his support. Cheney’s daughter, Mary, worked prominently on his campaigns, and is an out lesbian with a partner.




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