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January 13, 2012

Three states may pass marriage bills

Olympia, Wash.--Three state legislatures are ready to pass marriage equality legislation, while a fourth contemplates repealing its existing law. Two of the new marriage bills, however, may hinge on whether lawmakers can override a governor’s veto.

In Washington state, Gov. Christine Gregoire introduced a marriage equality bill herself, and it will likely pass the House with ease. It was the state Senate that was considered the sticking point, until Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen announced her support of the measure on January 23.

She is the 25th state senator to announce support for the bill, and the final vote necessary for it to pass the chamber.

In a change from the regular rhetoric, Haugen cited her “very strong Christian beliefs” as the reason for her support of the legislation.

“To some degree, this is generational. Years ago I took exception to my parents’ beliefs on certain social issues, and today my children take exception to some of mine,” she said in a statement. “Times change, even if it makes us uncomfortable. I think we should all be uncomfortable sometime. None of us knows everything, and it’s important to have our beliefs questioned.”

“I have very strong Christian beliefs, and personally I have always said when I accepted the Lord, I became more tolerant of others,” she continued. “I stopped judging people and try to live by the Golden Rule. This is part of my decision. I do not believe it is my role to judge others, regardless of my personal beliefs. It’s not always easy to do that.”

“For me personally, I have always believed in traditional marriage between a man and a woman. This is what I believe, to this day. But this issue isn’t about just what I believe. It’s about respecting others, including people who may believe differently than I. It’s about whether everyone has the same opportunities for love and companionship and family and security that I have enjoyed,” Haugen noted.

There are four state senators who have yet to announce their position on the bill, and 20 who oppose it.

The anti-gay Family Policy Institute of Washington has promised a referendum if the Washington bill passes. Voters in the state narrowly approved full domestic partnerships in a similar 2009 election.

In Maryland, Gov. Martin O’Malley followed Gregoire’s example and introduced an equal marriage bill on January 23. The bill was distributed at the beginning of the legislature’s 8 pm session after the governor and his staff worked with community advocates to clarify religious protections in the hope of increasing support over last year’s measure.

Last year’s bill, for instance, protected religious institutions for refusing to recognize same-sex marriages, while this year’s bill extends that shield to religious leaders. It also states that religious leaders control doctrine and limits punitive actions against religious organizations that refuse to perform same-sex marriages.

All of those provisions simply repeat long-standing constitutional protections.

Last year’s measure passed the state senate, but died in the House of Delegates after failing to garner the 71 votes needed for passage.

On January 24, the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee passed a marriage equality bill on a vote of eight to four. The bill, however, has been promised a veto from Gov. Chris Christie if it passes the legislature.

Christie said that he believes the issue of marriage equality should be decided by voters directly.

“The last time to my knowledge we put a civil right issue on referendum in the state of New Jersey was in 1915 and it was woman’s suffrage issue and the vote went down,” State Sen. Loretta Weinberg said during the committee hearing, according to Think Progress. “Women were not allowed to vote. This is our responsibility in this legislature.”

The legislature passed a civil union law after a 2006 ruling in favor of marriage equality by the state supreme court that left the specific palliative to lawmakers, but a 2008 commission found that civil union falls short of providing the equality mandated in the court’s decision.

Meanwhile, a bill that would allow people to refuse to provide goods and services related to a marriage that goes against a person’s conscience or religious beliefs is in front of the House Judiciary Committee in New Hampshire, where it has also been promised a gubernatorial veto.

The bill, however, does not specify same-sex marriages, which means it could be used to allow a secular business to refuse service to an interracial couple seeking to marry, or a couple where one or both members have been divorced, or an interfaith marriage.

The bill, even if it makes it past the promised veto, would likely fail in court, since federal civil rights laws already preclude much of the discrimination that it allows.

New Hampshire lawmakers will also take up a bill next month to completely repeal that state’s same-sex marriage law. That measure will also face a governor’s veto, but Republicans in the legislature may be able to override it.

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