4 States Closer to Marriage Equality Than You’d Think
With 2012′s groundbreaking wins at the ballot, a lot of states are now considering legalizing marriage equality, including some states that might just surprise you. Below are four such states and details surrounding their push toward marriage equality.
Minnesota: From Constitutional Ban to Marriage Equality?
Minnesota made the headlines in November 2012 when voters said no to an amendment that would have codified the state’s existing statutory ban on same-sex marriage. When the Religious Right in the state Legislature dreamed up the amendment, they probably didn’t expect it would be a rallying force for a grassroots effort to then enact marriage equality legislation, but that is precisely what seems to have happened.
Now, marriage equality supporters are preparing for large fundraising campaigns and are already in the process of lobbying DFL legislators, who now hold tentative majorities in the Legislature, with a “disciplined, strategic” force, this according to Richard Calbom, Minnesotans United for All Families, who is quoted as saying that “This is not some fly-by-night operation. We are going to be very focused on accomplishing the task in front of us.”
The chances of success aren’t yet clear and, with Republicans still a strong force in the Legislature, the battle will be tough, but the very fact that Minnesotan equality groups now feel confident enough to try is noteworthy, and this certainly may mark the beginning of the end for Minnesota’s marriage equality ban.
Hawaii: Is Another Civil Rights Struggle on the Way?
Passing civil unions in the Aloha state was a slog that lasted decades. Even so, and possibly because civil union uptake has been relatively low in Hawaii, the focus is now on enacting marriage equality, and equality groups are hopeful that national progress will translate into speedy results.
Such hopes were bolstered when, in a recent (albeit unsuccessful) state lawsuit, Governor Abercrombie refused to defend aspects of the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, saying he believed the ban to be unconstitutional.
Furthermore, the state is in a rather unique position because the 1998 amendment that has been used to ban marriage equality in fact gives the Legislature the power to define marriage, in accordance with existing state law, as it sees fit. By virtue of that language, legal analysts have said the legislature could repeal the de facto ban with relative ease.
“By virtue of the 1998 amendment, the Legislature has a monopoly over what the configuration of marriage is going to look like in Hawaii, including whether marriage will be opened to others,” said Steven Levinson, a former associate justice of the Hawaii Supreme Court. “The Legislature can do it by statute, because Article 1, Section 23 of the Hawaii Constitution says the Legislature shall have the power to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples.”
This means that there isn’t a need to first overcome a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality, and therefore marriage equality advocates are now optimistic that they can at least begin the process of rallying lawmakers to make the change.
Rhode Island: Governor Says Yes to Marriage Equality
Given that more than 60% of Rhode Island residents polled in favor of marriage equality in 2009, and that the state has one of the strongest Democratic presences throughout the nation, it might be supposed that marriage equality is a done deal. However, in past years, the legislation stalled and impetus to get the job done has seemed lacking.
However, Rhode Island’s Governor Lincoln Chafee made headlines this past week when at a press conference to launch the marriage equality campaign, he stated his strong support for equal marriage rights, saying that marriage equality is something that is long overdue in the state. The governor, a former Republican U.S. senator who is now an Independent, signed civil unions into law in 2011, though at the time he had misgivings about the legislation. Since then, however, he has evolved on the issue.
We have seen what strong leadership on the marriage equality drive has been able to accomplish in states like New York and Maryland, and so it seems highly likely that Rhode Island could be a marriage equality state in the very near future.
Wyoming: Yes, You Read That Right
State Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, filed legislation on Monday that would either allow same-sex couples the chance to marry or have civil unions. This dual approach has proved popular, and has even won the support of Jackson Republican Rep. Keith Gingery, who has signed on to co-sponsor the measure.
The legislation, known as House Bill 169, would reportedly change the state’s definition of marriage to define it as a civil contract between “two natural persons.” Current law states marriage is between “a male and a female person,” so this would not require a drastic change in the legislative framework. The change would allow same-sex couples to “obtain the rights, responsibilities, protections and legal benefits provided in Wyoming for immediate family members.”
As such, it would appear the law would recognize unions like domestic partnerships as well.
Connolly is also championing a bill that would make it illegal to discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, a measure that despite broad public support has in previous years failed to gain traction.
What are the odds of these measures passing? This remains unclear, but Connolly believes that Wyoming is ready to consider full equality and is working hard to make that a reality.
As you can see, 2013 looks set to be an interesting, and possibly landmark year for marriage equality advocates. Here’s hoping there are even more pleasant surprises to come.
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