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State judges, legislators weigh gay marriage

WASHINGTON (BP) — Judges and legislators are preparing to determine the definition of legal marriage in a variety of states.

Whether same-sex unions should be recognized as marriages soon will be weighed by government officials in New Jersey, New Mexico, Hawaii and Michigan. The fate of the latest efforts to expand gay marriage beyond 13 states and the District of Columbia will be determined in those states either in the next few weeks or next year. Among the latest developments:

— The New Jersey Supreme Court agreed Oct. 11 to review a state judge’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage in the state. The justices scheduled oral arguments in the appeal for Jan. 6-7.

— The New Mexico Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Oct. 23 on whether judicial decisions legalizing gay marriage in two counties should be extended throughout the state.

— Hawaii’s attorney general issued a legal opinion Oct. 15 saying the legislature has the authority to legalize same-sex marriage without the state constitution being amended. The ruling came as the Hawaii legislature prepares for a special session that will begin Oct. 28 to consider legalizing gay marriage.

— A federal judge in Michigan disappointed same-sex marriage advocates Oct. 16 by delaying a decision on the state’s ban on such unions, saying he would rule after a trial scheduled to begin Feb. 25.

Southern Baptist ethicist Russell D. Moore pointed to the responsibility of Christians to defend the biblical view of marriage amidst cultural change and legal challenges.

“We have known for some time now that we’re in the midst of a major cultural redefinition of marriage,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

“At the end of all of this, though, will be a basic human longing to know whether marriage is rooted in something more permanent than court decrees or culture shifts,” he said in a statement to Baptist Press. “We must stand here with a witness to the marriage of man and woman as more than a state creation, but instead as an icon of the Gospel of Christ and his church, bride and Groom.”

In its Oct. 11 action, the New Jersey Supreme Court granted Gov. Chris Christie’s request that they consider a lower court’s ruling without an appeals court first considering it.

Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson ruled Sept. 27 the state’s refusal to recognize gay marriage violated the equal protection clause of the New Jersey Constitution. She ordered the state government to begin permitting same-sex marriages Oct. 21. On Oct. 10, Jacobson refused a request to block enforcement of her order while the decision was being appealed. In issuing its order a day later, the state Supreme Court did not rule on whether Jacobson’s order would take effect Oct. 21.

Christie vetoed a same-sex marriage bill approved by the legislature last year and continues to say the issue should be decided by voters in a ballot initiative.

The New Mexico high court, which already has issued an opinion favoring advocates for same-sex unions, will hear oral arguments Oct. 23 in response to a request from the state’s 33 country clerks, according to Reuters News Service. After judges ruled gay marriages should be permitted in two counties, the clerks asked the justices to determine whether same-sex marriage should be legal statewide.

In August, the New Mexico Supreme Court rejected the religious free exercise arguments of Jonathan and Elaine Huguenin, a Christian couple who operate a photography business. The justices ruled the Huguenins violated the state’s ban on sexual orientation discrimination by refusing to photograph a same-sex ceremony.

Hawaii’s legislators will determine whether to recognize gay marriage during a special session called for by Gov. Neil Abercrombie, a proponent of its legalization. In his Oct. 15 opinion, Attorney General Dave Louie said the legislature “unquestionably has the constitutional authority” to pass such a bill. A legislator had asked Louie to rule whether legislators could legalize same-sex marriage since the Hawaii Constitution says, “The legislature shall have the power to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples.”

In Detroit, federal judge Bernard Friedman surprised gay marriage proponents by postponing an opinion on the constitutionality of Michigan’s restriction on marriage. Dozens of same-sex couples were waiting at clerks’ offices in the state to receive marriage licenses had Friedman invalidated the ban, the Detroit Free Press reported.

Friedman acknowledged in court his uncertainty. “I’m a little nervous,” he said, according to the Free Press. “I’ve never had a case like this before.”

The expanding legalization of gay marriage has resulted in the loss of freedom to exercise religious beliefs by business owners, including the Huguenins. The ERLC has endorsed new federal legislation to address an aspect of this growing problem. The Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, H.R. 3133, would prevent the federal government from denying tax exemption to, or withdrawing it from, individuals and institutions that define marriage as only between a man and a woman.

The 13 states in which same-sex marriage is legal are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Washington and Vermont.
Tom Strode is Washington Bureau chief. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).