Gay marriage in the USA

2013-01-18 15:27
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Chicago - 2012 was a good year for gays who want to marry, especially in the US. Sadly New Jersey’s governor vetoed such legislation, and North Carolina passed a constitutional amendment by referendum banning gay marriage, but Minnesota killed off such a move in the same fashion, while three more states (Maine, Maryland and Washington) passed gay marriage through a popular vote.

2013 could be another eventful year on this front. Six strongly Democrat states are expected to revisit the question of same-sex marriage: Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey and Rhode Island. State governments are shaped similarly to the federal government: each state has a governor (the person in charge), a senate (upper chamber) and a house (lower chamber), all elected by district. It is not uncommon, for example in New Jersey and Rhode Island, for different parts of the government to be from different parties.

While there is a push in all of them to pass gay marriage laws, each has its own difficulties. So what might happen in each of these states?

Delaware

Delaware has generally been a pretty solid player when it comes to gay rights. It repealed its anti-sodomy laws (which basically included anything people of the same gender could do to/with each other) in the seventies, while 13 states kept these on the books until 2003.It also has hate-crime legislation on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation, and allows civil unions. Delaware’s civil unions are essentially marriage with a different name, but the state’s current governor Jack Markell told Reuters in March 2012, “I think [same-sex marriage in Delaware] is inevitable,” and the Huffington Post in September that it would likely be on 2013’s legislative calendar. The passage of same-sex marriage through the state legislature is not expected to be a sure bet, which is surprising considering Delaware’s government is stocked with nearly two Democrats per Republican.  According to DelawareOnline.com, the folks most likely to sponsor a bill for gay marriage will be the same personnel who spear-headed the aforementioned civil unions bill.

Hawaii

Like Delaware, Hawaii has a strong civil unions law, which checks most – not all – of the marriage boxes. Gay marriages from other states and countries are recognised in Hawaii as civil unions. Unexpectedly, a federal judge last year in August ruled against two women who sued for the right to get married, although the case is being appealed. Governor Neil Abercrombie (ironically a defendant in the case) has said he sides with the gay couple, and a loop-holey constitutional amendment in the state means the legislature is the sole arbiter of who gets married to whom. This was due to the way the state banned gay marriage in 1998, and how the court found in favour of the decision not to allow the women to get hitched. Simply, this means that the decision can be changed within the same body, in the same manner. An attempt at this failed in 2010 when then governor Laura Lingle vetoed a gay marriage bill passed by the legislature, and polling in the state shows a majority of Hawaiians don’t believe in the concept. Also, the legislature is so heavily skewed towards Democrats (24 Democrats to 1 Republican in the state Senate, and 44 Democrats to 7 Republicans in the lower house), that inside the party is where the social issues are fought – in other words, the legislature is stocked with socially conservative Democrats. While there has been no official statement about introducing a gay marriage bill, there has been enough smoke to speculate on a fire.

Illinois

Of all the states listed here, Illinois is the most likely to pass gay marriage, and attempted it in the first few weeks of January just before the current Congress ended. Governor Pat Quinn has said he will sign a bill legalising gay marriages. Like the aforementioned states, Illinois already has civil unions. Other support comes from local and countrywide businesses, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, President Barack Obama (who hails from Illinois), and, strangely enough, from the head of the Republican Party in Illinois – who looks like he might possibly lose his perch stop the party for doing so. According the Windy City Times, movement on the bill could come in early February, when the state legislature is in session again. The bill has passed through committee, which was where it broke down before the new politicians were sworn in, but could be impeded by the severe financial hole the state of Illinois is trying to clamber out of (the state’s finances become more perilous every year), pushing everything else from immediate vision. That being said, the bill is likely to pass.

Minnesota

If Illinois is where gay marriage is most likely to pass, Minnesota is probably where it is least likely. Although the state is sliding more towards the Democrat side of the scale with every election – Democrats just won both the state House and the state Senate in the 2012 elections, along with their Democrat and same sex marriage-supporting governor Mark Dayton – voting against a referendum to constitutionally ban gay marriage comes with more issues than just the one at stake. For example, a valid question about the referendum was the somewhat dirty tricks campaign its supporters used to try and get around lawmakers. Although the amendment was killed, it is also worth pointing out that it was a marginal win, and like the website PolicyMic highlights: "17 Democratic representatives and 10 Democratic senators represent areas where the amendment passed," which is enough to kill the legislation. Although there is a firm grassroots game for gay marriage proponents, it is likely this won’t be looked at early this legislative session.

New Jersey

New Jersey is an interesting case: in mid-2012 the Democrat-controlled state legislature passed gay marriage but Republican Governor Chris Christie vetoed the set of laws. Christie, who has publicly expressed his stance against same-sex marriage, thought he was onto a winner declaring that gay marriage would only be signed into law via referendum, circumstances under which it has lost up until then 32 times out of 32. For Christie, who backed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in the state while campaigning for governor, it was a convenient way of killing off the legislation. But then in the 2012 elections, successful referenda in Maryland, Washington and Maine turned that idea on its head. It is likely lawmakers in New Jersey will call Governor Christie’s bluff on this sometime in the next two years, now that the popular ballot has fallen this way in some of the USA’s most liberal states, of which New Jersey is one. The legislature’s other option is to get a few Republican votes to override Christie’s veto (a two-thirds vote in both chambers, which will require only a few Republican votes). New Jersey has state elections in odd-numbered years, however, which, according to a New Jersey assemblywoman quoted by Reuters in November, means a bill with Republican support will likely only happen after party primaries in mid-2013.

Rhode Island

As recently as last Sunday, Rhode Island’s Independent Governor Lincoln Chafee backed the passage of gay marriage in his state, which has support amongst voters and the heavily-Democrat controlled legislature. The sticking point thus far has been the state’s upper chamber, which, although dominated by Democrats, has seen resistance on religious grounds. It isn’t so much the body of the Senate as much as it is the Judiciary Committee, which will look at the legislation and decide whether to take it to a vote. Of the ten people on that committee, three have said they back gay marriage, four have said they won’t and three are not committing to anything until they see it on paper. Six votes are required to take it to the Senate floor. That being said, there is no assurance that its passing by the committee will ensure its passage: some back of the envelope calculations show that 15 Senate members are firmly against gay marriage, with only 13 for it, meaning proponents require seven of the remaining ten votes.

Aside from these six states, there are two more significant matters to be heard in the Supreme Court in March, with decisions expected in June. The first will be over the constitutionality of the Defence of Marriage Act signed into law by then President Bill Clinton, which forbids the recognition of gay marriages by the national government: to be clear, it does not legalise gay marriage, merely the recognition of people legally married where it is permitted.

The other will be the infamous Proposition 8 from California, passed by popular vote in a referendum, which limits marriage to that between one man and one woman.

 

Read more on:    us  |  gay rights
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