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‘Gay marriage’ supporters closing in on landmark victory

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Last year’s passage of California Proposition 8 may have been a historic moment for opponents of “gay marriage,” but supporters believe they are on the verge of notching their own significant victory — seeing a state voluntarily legalize such unions.

At least five states — New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont — could debate bills this year that would legalize “gay marriage,” as could the Washington, D.C., city council. Additionally, at least three states — Hawaii, Washington and New Mexico — may pass legislation granting same-sex couples all the legal benefits of marriage minus the name.

After years of both sides fighting in state courts, the landscape may be shifting to state legislatures, even with court cases remaining in Iowa (where that state’s highest court could legalize “gay marriage”) and California (where that state’s highest court will hear a case March 5 considering the validity of Prop 8) still pending.

The current outlook isn’t very sunny for social conservatives, especially in the Northeast. Governors in two states (New Jersey and New York) have pledged to sign “gay marriage” bills, and the governor in a third state (Maine) who has opposed a “gay marriage” bill in the past suddenly has turned noncommittal. Democrats control both chambers in all three states.

The legal group GLAD (Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders) announced days after the November election its “Six by Twelve” campaign with the goal of seeing all six New England states recognize “gay marriage” by 2012. GLAD, which says it will partner with various state organizations to reach the goal, is the same legal group that successfully sued in two of those New England states — Connecticut and Massachusetts — to legalize “gay marriage.” Those two states remain the only U.S. states to recognize “marriage” between homosexuals.

Following is a summary of the status of “gay marriage,” civil union and domestic partnership bills in states (as well as the District of Columbia) where they are most likely to pass. Unlike California, none of the eight states has a law allowing citizens to gather signatures to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot. The only recourse for conservatives, pro-family leaders say, will be to pressure individual legislators to vote “no.”


— Maine: State Sen. Dennis S. Damon, a Democrat, stood alongside same-sex couples and introduced a bill at a news conference in late January that would legalize “gay marriage.” Democrats control both chambers. Maine Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat, issued a statement after the press conference saying: “In the past, I have opposed gay marriage while supporting the idea of civil unions…. Unfortunately, there is no question that gay and lesbian people and their families still face discrimination. This debate is extremely personal for many people, and it’s an issue that I struggle with trying to find the best path forward.”

— New Hampshire: Four New Hampshire Democratic representatives introduced a bill in early January that would legalize “gay marriage” in the state. New Hampshire already recognizes same-sex civil unions. Democrats control both chambers. Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, has said in the past he opposes “gay marriage.”

— Vermont: State Sen. John Campbell, a Democrat, says he will introduce a bill this session that would legalize “gay marriage.” Democrats control both chambers. Gov. Jim Douglas, a Republican, opposes “gay marriage.” The question may be whether the legislature would have the votes to override a possible veto. Vermont was the first state to legalize civil unions, although a commission created by the legislature issued a one-sided report last year calling the current law flawed. The report’s conclusion wasn’t surprising: Most if not all of the members of the commission supported “gay marriage.”

— New Jersey: Although the governor, Senate president and Assembly speaker all favor voting on a “gay marriage” bill, its consideration may be delayed this year because the state is facing an election. Democrats control both chambers, while the governor’s office is held by Jon S. Corzine who is facing re-election. The election, in fact, may decide the bill’s future — if it doesn’t pass prior to Election Day. Corzine has said he would sign it. The state recognizes civil unions, although a state commission issued a report in December urging the state to legalize “gay marriage.”

— New York: After winning the state Senate from Republicans, Democrats now hold both chambers, and a “gay marriage” bill is expected to be debated. Such a bill passed the Assembly in 2007 but was blocked in the Republican-controlled Senate. Complicating matters is the fact that Democrats hold a narrow 32-30 Senate advantage, and a handful of Democrats oppose the bill. Gov. David A. Paterson, a Democrat, has said he would sign the bill. Democratic leaders pledged during the campaign to pass the bill if they won Senate control.

— Washington, D.C.: A majority of Washington’s city council supports a bill that would legalize “gay marriage,” as does the city’s mayor. Congress has the power to overturn the bill, but with Democrats in power, such a bill — which was opposed when Republicans were in power — has a friendlier audience. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi backs “gay marriage.”


— Washington state: State Sen. Ed Murray and Rep. Jamie Pedersen, both Democrats, are sponsoring an expansion of the state’s domestic partnership law that would, in Pedersen’s words, give same-sex couples “everything but marriage,” The Seattle Times reported. Democrats control both chambers. Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, a Democrat, signed the bill in 2007 that created domestic partnerships. Pedersen and Murray say they hope the law serves as a stepping stone to “gay marriage.”

— Hawaii: A majority of state House members are sponsors of a bill that would legalize civil unions, meaning that the bill’s fate apparently will be decided in the Senate, perhaps in the six-member Senate Judiciary and Government Operations Committee, the Honolulu Advertiser reported. The committee chairman hasn’t taken a position; three committee members back it and two are opposed. Democrats control both chambers. Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican, would have to sign it for it to become law. In 2006 she filled out a candidate survey for the Hawaii Family Forum and the Hawaii Catholic Conference and said she was undecided on the issue.

— New Mexico: A bill that would legalize domestic partnerships for same-sex couples failed in the state Senate Judiciary Committee when it received a tie vote Feb. 2. Further hurting the bill’s chances, one member who missed the vote said she would have voted against it, the Associated Press reported. Democrats control both chambers, and Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson supports the bill, which would grant same-sex couples all the state legal benefits of marriage. A spokesperson for Richardson told AP the governor still hopes the bill will pass.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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