New Push for Marriage Equality in the States

Published in: January-February 2013 issue.


LAST November’s election brought sweeping victories in the fight for marriage equality in Maine, Maryland, and Washington State, where voters approved same-sex marriage in ballot measures, even as Minnesota turned back a bid to amend the state constitution to ban gay marriage. The homophobic National Organization for Marriage, along with other anti-equality organizations, have lost their principal talking point and can no longer claim that marriage equality always loses when put to a popular vote.

With this wind in our sails, other states may soon begin to move toward recognizing same-sex couples, either as eligible for full marriage or a form of civil union.

Colorado. While a 2006 constitutional amendment prevents the state legislature from enacting marriage equality, a civil unions bill was defeated in 2012 thanks only to stunning maneuvers by Colorado Speaker of the House Frank McNulty (R) to thwart the majority in his chamber. McNulty lost his majority in the election, and his likely successor as Speaker, openly gay Rep. Mark Ferrandino (D), is the bill’s chief backer. Polling shows that seventy percent of Coloradans support legal recognition for same-sex couples, so movement on this appears likely in 2013.

Minnesota. Control of both the House and Senate flipped to the Democrats in the election. The Republican majorities that pushed for the constitutional ban in both houses are gone. With Gov. Mark Dayton (D) a strong supporter of marriage equality and with a popular mandate evident from the amendment vote, Minnesota could be one of the states to watch in 2013.

Rhode Island. With Tuesday’s victory in Maine, Rhode Island is now the only state in New England without marriage equality (though it has a weak civil unions law). With polling showing more than 56 percent of voters favoring full marriage equality, openly gay Speaker of the House Gordon Fox (D) has promised to bring up a marriage equality bill next year. The prospects are helped by important gains for pro-equality politicians in the November election.

Illinois. Governor Patrick Quinn (D) supports full equality, and popular support has been shifting toward full marriage equality (civil unions are currently recognized). State legislators are considering introducing a bill for 2013.

Delaware. Gov. Jack Markell (D) was re-elected with nearly seventy percent of the vote on Tuesday. He has called the transition from civil unions to marriage equality “inevitable” and expects the legislature to take it up in 2013.

New Jersey. Although Governor Chris Christie (R) vetoed a bill to move from civil unions to full marriage equality last February, the idea continues to enjoy broad public support. Christie has proposed putting the measure up for a referendum, but the success of this initiative may depend on the 2013 New Jersey gubernatorial and legislature election results.

Ohio. With poll numbers showing growing support, citizens in Ohio are working to repeal the state’s 2004 anti-equality amendment. To this end, they hope to place a new amendment on the ballot in 2013.

California. The fate of same-sex marriage will be determined by the U.S. Supreme Court, which will decide on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, which ended same-sex marriage in California in 2008. The court’s decision in this case could have sweeping implications for other states that have passed anti-marriage equality amendments. (The high court is also expected to decide on a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which outlaws federal recognition of same-sex marriages in states where it is legal.)

After years of defeats at the polls, advocates of same-sex marriage can take heart in the stunning reversal of that trend that occurred last November. It should be clear to obstructionists that public opinion is moving rapidly toward an acceptance of marriage equality, however much work remains to be done to achieve this goal as legal reality.
A version of this piece first appeared on where Josh Israel is a senior investigative reporter.


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