Marriage equality has enjoyed a number of breakthrough victories this past year, but looming is a brick wall that, if not tackled carefully, could stop progress dead. So, we need to talk about it.
How Do You Solve a Problem Like Arizona, Virginia or Michigan?
While Arizona’s current administration and presiding crop of lawmakers are about as hostile to same-sex partnership recognition as it is possible to be, a new poll from the Arizona Behavior Research Center shows that a majority of Arizona residents (55%) now support allowing same-sex couples to marry. What’s more, this support unites several key demographics.
Briefly, 60% of women say they back gay and lesbian couples marrying while Hispanics as a demographic poll overwhelmingly in favor at 75%. That’s a problem for the Republicans as their binders aren’t exactly full of women or Hispanic supporters, and even the Republicans are divided on the issue 53% – 36% against.
Why do these polls matter? Two key reasons.
One, it suggests the above states’ administrations and legislators may be radically out of step with their residents.
More than that, though, Arizona is an example of a significant problem facing the marriage equality movement: Arizonans may now support same-sex marriage but the damage of past hostility is already done. In 2008, residents enacted a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality. That’s not easily fixed, and this fact speaks to a wider issue.
The marriage equality movement is running out of states where a simple legislative act can recognize same-sex marriage. Proponents now face the prospect of tackling the 31 states where constitutional amendments have been enacted, to varying degrees, to ban marriage equality. Undoing these bindings will not be easy. In some states, though, the process is actually already underway and so taking a look at how they are making the change is important.
Nevada and the Marriage Equality Battles Ahead
In April, and following emotional testimony, Nevada senators passed a bill that would amend the state constitution to reverse a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. That bill must now gain approval in the state House but, because amending a constitution by its nature must be a laborious process, a victory this year is only one part of the battle.
The next set of lawmakers to grace the state legislature must then approve the same measure in 2015 before finally allowing the measure to go before voters in 2016 who will need to ratify the change.
Obviously this provides several chances for sabotage and failure, and this shows the precarious nature of the road ahead. True, not all the battles will be as laborious. Due to the differences in the kinds of amendments and the different ways they can be overturned, some fights are still within easy reach.
For instance, Hawaii’s ban on marriage equality, Constitutional Amendment 2, is unique in that it grants the state’s legislature the power to define marriage as a heterosexual union — or not. Therefore, a simple act of legislative change could enable marriage equality. Expect Hawaii, with bills already in the legislature, to be one of the next states of focus, then.
What does this tell us? We know that states do not react well to court intervention on the issue of same-sex marriage –Massachusetts and Iowa being prime examples — so in states like Nevada and Ohio where victory is possible by other means, the legislative and public referendum battle is certainly worth investing time in.
This is especially true because, with public opinion rapidly increasing beyond even the 50% threshold, time is marriage equality’s friend. It will see legislators on both sides of the political divide grow in courage and cast a vote in favor of same-sex marriage rights, and the public at large provide support for the recognition of what is already granted heterosexual couples.
The Nevada fight also shows where a slightly wilting but nonetheless potent olive branch could be drawn.
Republicans in the state legislature originally backed the repeal of the amendment because, they said, that marriage should not be in the constitution at all. Many later refused to support the language once same-sex marriage was added, but this may point to where a compromise could be reached: repeal the constitutional bans first and then let the democratic process start afresh on this issue. It would take a great deal of time but may be a way forward in some conservative states.
In other states the temptation will be to turn toward the courts. Sadly, if recent cases are anything to go by, there’s no guarantee this will yield quick results.
Next page: No guarantees, and the upcoming Supreme Court decisions >>
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