PROVIDENCE, R.I. (BP) — The U.S. Supreme Court has yet to issue its much-awaited decisions on gay marriage, but a handful of state legislatures are seemingly racing to become the 10th state to redefine the institution to include same-sex couples.
Significantly, Democrats control the chambers in all five states where the issue is being considered.
Rhode Island’s Senate passed a bill Wednesday (April 24) that would legalize gay marriage by a vote of 26-12, one day after a key Senate committee passed it on a 7-4 vote. The House must pass it again. Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an Independent, has said he would sign it. The Senate version of the bill got two big boosts in recent days. First, Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed — who opposes gay marriage — said she would not block the bill. Second, all five Republicans in the Senate announced their support for the bill.
A bill that would have placed the issue in front of voters was defeated in the Senate committee, 6-5. Rhode Island is the only New England state not to recognize gay marriage. A survey of Rhode Island voters earlier this year found 74 percent of them supported the issue being on the ballot.
“Marriage is intrinsically the union of a man and a woman and has been for thousands of years,” Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) said in a statement. NOM opposes the bill. “When the definition of marriage has been changed elsewhere, we have seen countless examples of people being punished if they do not abandon their deeply held beliefs that marriage is and can only be the union of a man and a woman. Wedding professionals have been fined, small businesses have been sued, church groups have lost their tax exemptions and religious-based charities have closed down, unable to compromise their beliefs about the true nature of marriage.”
In Washington state — where gay marriage was legalized last year — a Christian florist is being sued by the state for refusing to provide her services at a gay wedding. The state says she is violating the Consumer Protection Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The Delaware House passed a gay marriage bill Tuesday (April 23), 23-18, sending it to the state Senate. Five Democrats opposed it and one Republican supported it. Democratic Gov. Jack Markell has said he would sign it.
Rhode Island and Delaware each approved civil unions bills in 2011. Civil unions grant gay couples all the legal benefits of marriage, minus the name.
Three other states — Illinois, Nevada and Minnesota — also are considering legalizing gay marriage.
The Illinois Senate passed a gay marriage bill in February by a vote of 34-21, although it has yet to receive a House vote. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn supports it.
Nevada’s Senate approved a constitutional amendment Monday (April 22), 12-9, that would legalize gay marriage. It was the first step in a long process aimed at striking a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. That latter amendment was approved by voters in 2002. This new amendment would need approval by both chambers in separately elected legislatures and would not go before voters until 2016.
In Minnesota, a bill that would legalize gay marriage has yet to receive a vote, although one is expected in the coming weeks. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton backs it.
The movement in the five states underscores a dramatic geographical and cultural divide on the issue. For instance, in early April the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a resolution by a vote of 84-0 supporting traditional marriage and the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which is before the Supreme Court. About half of the Democratic caucus walked out and did not vote.
Thirty states define marriage in their state constitutions as between a man and a woman, and another 11 do so via statute. Nine states recognize gay marriage: Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Washington and Vermont. Gay marriage also is legal in the District of Columbia.
Read resources about the gay marriage debate:
Compiled by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).