Conservatives in Indiana have managed to push SJR-13, which is often described as the Marriage Discrimination Amendment, through a Senate Judiciary Hearing by a vote of 6-4, and this piece of legislation does everything its nickname promises – it aims to discriminate against Indiana’s lesbian and gay citizens.
Same-sex marriage is already barred in Indiana thanks to a 1997 state level Defense of Marriage Act, something which has been upheld in Indiana’s lower courts. That’s not quite enough for the folks at Indiana’s self described “pro-family” groups though. They want their prejudices nice and cemented in the form of a constitutional amendment so as to curtail any chance of further court challenges. They say they are not driven by animus, but just to really twist the knife, the amendment will go to the extraordinary length of banning civil unions too.
Who is responsible for this most recent version of the legislation? It’s James Bopp, a man who, as well as authoring other anti-equality initiatives, has been involved with a Californian lawsuit that attempts to keep secret the identities of donors to anti-equality initiatives. It’s not hard to see why Mr. Bopp is keen on such a move, is it? He contends that this bill is necessary so that what happened in Iowa, where the Supreme Court found the state’s marriage ban to be unconstitutional, doesn’t happen in Indiana. Proponents of marriage equality disagree, pointing out that the bill is overreaching and mean spirited. From Indiana Equality:
“Passage of SJR-13 by the Indiana Senate will keep this harmful proposal in play and set the stage for a possible ballot initiative. If approved by the electorate, SJR-13 will forever write discrimination into the Indiana Constitution, affecting thousands of Hoosier families.”
The amendment will now go to the Senate floor where it is likely to pass, perhaps as soon as this coming week. There’s a Republican majority in the Indiana Senate and a version of the same-sex marriage ban has passed every year since 2004. Counterpart resolutions have been introduced in the House as House Joint Resolutions 5 and 7 (HJR5 and HJR7).
Can we hope that the slim Democratic majority will keep the initiative from passing there as in previous years? It should. The legislation has been assigned to the House Rules and Legislative Procedures Committee where it stalled last year, but pressure is mounting. Bolstered by recent victories at the ballot in Maine and, of course, California, and knowing that many Supreme Court decisions on the constitutionality of marriage bans have recently appeared to favor equal access to marriage rights for lesbian and gay partners, same-sex marriage foes want to take the issue out of the hands of the courts as quickly as possible.
Democratic House Speaker Patrick Bauer has said that amending the state’s constitution isn’t required due to the marriage ban that’s already in place. He has indicated that he would oppose the measure being brought to the floor in the House, simply because he sees it as superfluous and as a waste of time given the more pressing concerns of unemployment and the state’s financial woes.
In other news, just weeks after New Hampshire legalized equal access to marriage for same-sex couples, several groups have mobilized to begin a repeal. While it is unlikely that they will manage such a feet in the near future, on Wednesday the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony from gay marriage opponents.
To get the measure on the ballot would, again, be a lengthy battle, but in an attempt to expedite that process, New Hampshire residents against same-sex marriage have started a campaign ahead of this year’s congressional elections to gather what has been called “non-binding resolutions” against marriage equality, and to voice their disquiet concerning legislators who they believe did not represent the views of the people when they approved same-sex marriage last year, hoping to persuade voters to punish those legislators come Election Day.
Meanwhile, Hawaii moved one step closer to having civil unions on Friday when the Hawaii Senate voted to approve the measure by an 18-7 vote, signaling that the Senate may have enough votes to surmount a possible veto by the Republican governor Linda Lingle who has urged the House to drop the civil unions bill although she has not yet indicated whether or not she would veto.
The civil unions bill is expected to go to the House floor as soon as this coming week, although the House has yet to make a formal commitment to voting on the measure. Supporters of the civil union bill have said that they will probably only bring the measure to the House floor if they are certain that they have a veto proof majority. This would amount to 34 of the 51 lawmakers, which is not an impossible task, but one that may be difficult.
“It’s very close,” said Democratic Speaker of the House Calvin Say. “During an election year, this issue is so divisive that it may hurt many of our members.”
The bill would grant gay and lesbian couples the same rights as Hawaii provides heterosexual married couples. The bill has met strong opposition however, with a rally of “traditional” marriage supporters marching last week and calling for the bill to be voted down, promising repercussions come the congressional elections if the bill were to pass.
That said, on Friday legislators made repeated references to the distinction between a marriage and a civil union, with Democratic Senator Roz Baker saying, “I see nothing in this measure that denies, hurts or harms traditional marriage. What I see is an acknowledgment that there are all kinds of families, that there are all kinds of relationships and all of those deserve to be treated equally under the law.”
Hawaii currently has a reciprocal benefits law which offers some of the rights afforded to married couples in the state to gay and lesbian partners, but does not allow access to most of the benefits and responsibilities that are automatically afforded to married couples. Click here for a summary of what the Hawaii Civil Unions Bill (HB 444) would do.
Somewhat further afield, Nepal looks set to legalize same-sex marriage within the next few months following a Supreme Court ruling in 2007 that ordered all laws that discriminated against LGBTs to be scrapped.
Until 2007, Nepal criminalized homosexuality by virtue of a law on “unnatural sex acts”, but it has since seen great progress on the issue and is now busy hammering out a new constitution that, among other provisions, will make “sexual minorities” equal under the law. This includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex citizens having equal protection under the law:
“Rights for LGBTIs have been well drafted in the new constitution. They will ensure non-discrimination and separate citizenship IDs for third-gendered people,” according to Sunil Babu Pant, Nepal’s first openly gay lawmaker speaking to the Hindustan Times.
Taking full advantage of this, Nepal would like to make itself into a desirable tourist destination for lesbian and gay couples by, among other things, offering travel packages that will include the opportunity to get married at the base of Everest. Courting the so-called “pink pound,” Nepal hopes to become the most gay friendly destination in Asia as the government pursues its desire to maximize revenue from its tourism industry.
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