NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–After suffering a series of stinging defeats last year, homosexual activists may be on the verge of significant victories this year as state legislatures consider passing same-sex civil unions bills.
Legislators in at least four states — Hawaii, New Hampshire, Oregon and Rhode Island — are examining civil unions bills that would grant homosexual couples the legal benefits of marriage. A fifth state, Washington, is considering a domestic partnership benefits bill that would give same-sex couples some of marriage’s legal benefits.
In all five states, supporters believe they have a good chance at success. Homosexual activists see civil unions as the next-best thing to full-blown “gay marriage,” as well as a natural stepping stone to “marriage.” Some legislators see civil unions as a compromise. Pro-family leaders, though, disagree.
“We think civil unions as they are proposed here in Hawaii are exactly the same as marriage, but with a different title,” Hawaii Family Forum Executive Director Kelly Rosati told Baptist Press. “So, we don’t see it as much of a compromise.”
Last year, supreme courts in New York, Washington state and New Jersey ruled there was no constitutional right to “gay marriage.” Although it was a banner year for conservatives, the pendulum could be swinging back in the other direction. Maryland’s highest court could issue a “gay marriage” decision any day. California’s top court will hear such a case this year, and Connecticut’s highest court could as well.
Civil unions are legal in three states: Vermont, Connecticut and New Jersey. But even with civil unions, all three states remain embroiled in political or legal squabbles over “gay marriage.” In Vermont, a bill that would legalize “gay marriage” is pending in the state legislature. In Connecticut, a lawsuit that would legalize “gay marriage” currently is before the Connecticut Supreme Court, although justices have yet to decide whether they’ll hear it. And in New Jersey, the new civil unions law is just now going into effect, and homosexual activists already are pledging not to give up until the legislature allows “marriage” for same-sex couples.
Rosati said some Hawaii legislators are hesitant to get involved again in the debate over same-sex relationships after being embroiled in a controversy in the 1990s. In 1993, Hawaii’s high court sent a “gay marriage” case back down to a lower court, but in doing said the state must show how its traditional marriage laws further a “compelling state interest.” A few years later, with the high court seemingly on the verge of redefining marriage, Hawaii voters passed a marriage amendment giving the legislature the power to protect the natural definition of marriage, which they did. As part of the compromise, legislators also adopted a “reciprocal benefits” law giving any two adults — such as a brother and a sister, two best friends or a same-sex couple — some of the legal benefits of marriage.
The groundbreaking legal and political storm in Hawaii led to the U.S. Congress passing the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which gives states the option of not recognizing another state’s “gay marriages.”
“There are many, many legislators who do not want to go down this road,” Rosati said. “They see it as a revisiting of the same-sex marriage issue that tied up this community for years on end and was resolved overwhelmingly in 1998 [with passage of the marriage amendment]. For many legislators, they have many more pressing priorities.”
The Hawaii bill currently is before the House judiciary committee. Republican Gov. Linda Lingle has not taken a public position on it.
In the other states:
— In Oregon, homosexual activists are optimistic they can pass a civil unions bill because Democrats — who have been friendlier to their cause than Republicans — took control of the House during the last election, the Associated Press reported. Republicans blocked the bill when they held the chamber. Democrats control the Senate, and Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski supports civil unions. Oregon has a constitutional marriage amendment prohibiting “gay marriage.”
— The Rhode Island bill would legalize civil unions while defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Marriage Equality Rhode Island, a homosexual activist group, hasn’t taken a position on civil unions although it opposes the marriage language of the bill, The Providence Journal reported. Republican Gov. Donald Carcieri hasn’t taken a public position on it.
— In New Hampshire, Democratic state Rep. James Splaine is putting together a bill legalizing civil unions. He is confident about its chances because Democrats captured both the House and Senate last fall, AP said. Democratic Gov. John Lynch supports civil unions, according to the homosexual news site 365gay.com.
— In Washington, a domestic partner bill providing some of the legal benefits of marriage appears headed toward passage, The News Tribune in Tacoma reported. Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire likely will sign it, AP said. The bill is not as wide-sweeping as civil unions, although conservatives in the state say it’s a first step toward legalizing “gay marriage.”
Karen Testerman, executive director of New Hampshire Cornerstone Policy Research, said the civil unions bill will pass there if citizens don’t call their legislature.
“It’s recognizing [homosexuals] as a special class of people,” she said of the bill. “If you’ve got a sister and a brother living together, why shouldn’t they get it?”
The civil unions bill is being promoted as the New Hampshire legislature considers placing a constitutional marriage amendment on the ballot. It failed to make it out of the legislature last session.
“That one has some possibility for some legs, because the people are crying out that they want to be able to vote on this,” Testerman said. “Whether the legislators agree with us or not, let the people have a voice in it. Last year they allowed people to vote on constitutional amendments regarding imminent domain and voting districts. Now, why can’t we vote on something as simple and as important to families as the definition of marriage?”
For more information about the national debate over “gay marriage,” visit http://www.bpnews.net/samesexmarriage.