Recent legislative action in Washington, Maryland, New Jersey, and Illinois has given hope to same-sex marriage supporters. Most notably, Washington’s governor Christine Gregoire (D), signed a same-sex marriage bill on February 13, 2012, and Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley (D) signed one on March 1, 2012, making them the seventh and eighth states, respectively, to legalize same-sex marriage.They join six states (Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont) and the District of Columbia, which have already legalized marriage for same-sex couples.
Since 2006, the Washington State Legislature has taken important steps to provide equal rights for gay men and women. Governor Gregoire signed a measure that would extend protection to individuals experiencing discrimination based on sexual orientation in February 2006; the bill banned “discrimination in housing, employment, insurance, and credit” based on sexual orientation. In 2007, Washington took another step toward equality, legalizing domestic partnerships. Voters then approved Referendum 71 in 2009, which extended the rights for domestic partnerships, assuring they would “have the same financial and personal security under state law” as marriages.
While Washington has stood out as exemplary in securing rights for gay men and women, the state had yet to legalize same-sex marriage. State Representative Jamie Pedersen (D-WA), a lead sponsor of the same-sex marriage bill, reiterated on the House floor that “marriage is the name that society gives to the relationship that matters most between two adults,” and therefore, domestic partnerships are “a pale and inadequate substitute for marriage.”
First referred to the Government Operations, Tribal Relations and Elections committee on January 16, 2012, the same-sex marriage bill (SB 6239/HB 2516) gained momentum as Governor Gregoire publicly endorsed it and several major Washington-based companies (Vulcan, Nike, RealNetworks, the Group Health Cooperative, and Concur) showed their support. Recently, Microsoft also released a statement in support of the bill, noting, “Washington’s employers are at a disadvantage if we cannot offer a similar, equitable and inclusive environment to our talented employees, our top recruits and their families.”
After only 90 minutes of debate, the Washington Senate voted 28 to 21 in favor of SB 6239/HB 2516. Three Senate Democrats voted against the bill and four Senate Republicans voted for it. A week later, the Washington House joined the Senate to vote in favor of the bill, 55 to 43. On February 13Governor Gregoire signed the bill into law, making Washington the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage.
The new law has already been challenged by conservative political groups, including Preserve Marriage Washington, which filed a voter referendum the same day Governor Gregoire signed the bill. The group will need to collect 120,577 signatures by June 6 in order to have a referendum against the bill included on the November 2012 ballot.
Same-sex marriage has also recently garnered support on the East Coast. Domestic partnerships have been legal in Maryland since January 2008, when the definition was set in place by the Maryland Insurance Administration. However, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley (D) recently expressed his renewal of efforts to persuade state Republicans to pass a same-sex marriage bill that had failed in March 2011. Back in 2011, the Senate passed the bill, while the House, thought of as the more liberal of the two chambers, voted against it.
This year, with Governor O’Malley’s support, Maryland became the eighth state to legalize same-sex marriage with passage of the Civil Marriage Protection Act. The effort to pass the legislation overcame its difficult hurdle when the House of Delegates passed the bill 72–67 on February 17. Legislators in the Senate then easily voted 25–22 to pass it on February 23. Governor O’Malley signed the bill on March 1 with a crowd of same-sex couples and the eight openly gay and lesbian members of the Maryland General Assembly standing behind him.
Minutes before signing the bill, Governor O’Malley cited the need for marriage equality in the United States: “For a free and diverse people, for people of many faiths, for a people committed to the principle of religious freedom, the way forward is always found through greater respect for the equal rights of all, for the eminent dignity of all.”
When the bill passed in the House of Delegates, an amendment from Delegate Tiffany Alston (Prince George’s–D) was accepted, securing the delegates’ vote, which would keep the law from going into effect until any litigation to a potential voter referendum on the legislation is completed. An amendment was also accepted that shifted the effective date from October 2012 to January 2013. It is expected that the bill will be brought to a vote by Maryland voters when it is placed as a referendum on the ballot in November.
Same-sex marriage legislation was also considered recently in New Jersey, where the Senate and the Assembly passed a same-sex marriage bill (S1/A1). Civil unions for same-sex couples are currently legal in New Jersey, though many feel discrimination is prevalent. According to a report by the New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission, government officials, employers, and insurance companies have all discriminated against same-sex couples in civil unions.
The legislation passed the State Senate by a vote of 24–16 and the Assembly by a vote of 42–33. However, New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie (R) was expected to veto the legislation because of his long-standing opposition to same-sex marriage. Christie did in fact veto the legislation on on February 17, 2012 and instead suggested allowing voters to decide on a ballot initiative regarding same-sex marriage. The New Jersey legislature still has the opportunity to pass the bill if it can conjure a two-thirds majority, which would override the governor’s veto.
New Jersey voters’ support for same-sex marriage reached a record high in the days after Governor Christie vetoed the legislation, with 57 percent of registered voters supporting same-sex marriage and 37 percent opposing it. Those polled also overwhelmingly approve—67 percent to 28 percent—Christie’s proposal to place the matter on the November ballot, though this plan has been rejected by leaders of the Democratic-controlled legislature.
Finally, in Illinois, Representatives Greg Harris, Deb Mell, and Kelly Cassidy, all openly gay, have introduced a same-sex marriage bill (SB 2569/HB 5170). Civil unions for same-sex couples in Illinois were only legalized in 2011, though it is hoped the momentum from the recent enactment of same-sex marriage laws in other states will promote support for the bill in Illinois. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn supported the civil union legislation but has not agreed to support the same-sex marriage bill; he has said he needs to study “issues surrounding same-sex marriage before committing.”
As more states support same-sex marriage, public opinion is also trending toward support. According to a Gallup poll from 2011, 53% of Americans said they believed same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, a 9% increase from 2010.
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