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Breaking Down the Marriage Equality Brick Wall Starts With You

Breaking Down the Marriage Equality Brick Wall Starts With You
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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.

Similarly, recent polls suggest a majority in Virginia and Michigan also support marriage equality.

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.

Similarly, an effort in Ohio to repeat the grassroots victory that occurred in Maine last year where marriage equality advocates overturned a (legislative) ban by ballot initiative looks promising.

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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77 comments

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11:02AM PDT on May 23, 2013

Thanks Steve for sharing this very insightful article.

12:11PM PDT on May 22, 2013

Therese D, equality is the name of the game here. The right to live a normal married life is what is desired and required with the full rights and use of the word/meaning of marriage and all that it implies, not a shiny apartheid-style ‘union.’

Canada has legalized gay marriage for quite some time and our society has not fallen into an endless sinkhole nor has the country been zapped by lightning from above. It is simply basic decency to extend equal rights. There was a time when women were not even considered persons and could not vote. Eventually society stops playing ‘catch up’ and recognizes basic civil rights.

2:57AM PDT on May 22, 2013

Noted

8:56PM PDT on May 21, 2013

Tried to post a comment for Therese D earlier but it did not show up yet. In case it is a case of latency I will wait til Wednesday and if it has not magically appeared then I will repost. Was having trouble sending green stars earlier.

8:54PM PDT on May 21, 2013

Im from Arizona and I support Marriage Equality

5:39PM PDT on May 21, 2013

People's personal opinions should not be dictating another's life. A gay couple's marriage does not affect anyone else's marriage. It's such a waste of time and money having to fight this.

10:59AM PDT on May 21, 2013

Thank you everyone for your considered answers to my question, I was really afraid I would be labeled or abused in some way way for asking it. I will also go to the website suggested.

3:15AM PDT on May 21, 2013

noted

11:19PM PDT on May 20, 2013

Therese D....many same-sex couples will NOT want a traditional marriage, just as many heterosexual couples will remain together, unmarried.

But those who want to mark their union with a traditional ceremony and the status that brings are frustrated by the prohibition against them.

My brother and his partner have been together for 11 years. They've been happy together but, as they get a little older, they've begun to feel a lack of respect for their partnership in a society which looks down its nose at them.

They have all the trappings of traditional marriage....a house, two cars, a garden, savings, vacations...the whole thing.

Except, they want the tradition/recognition of marriage.

And I want to BE in that wedding! And the family and all their friends want to celebrate that wedding.

It's not just a couple, you know...it's an entire community of people who love them.

2:56PM PDT on May 20, 2013

To answer your question, Therese D, a "civil union" isn't the same as "traditional marriage". Same-sex couples do NOT have the same rights as heterosexual couples who have that legal piece of paper. This website might help: http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/an-overview-of-federal-rights-and-protections-granted-to-married-couples

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