Same-Sex Marriage, Civil Unions, and Domestic Partnerships
2 states passed laws in 2k9 legalizing same-sex marriage, and the top court in a third state permitted the marriage of gay couples, changing the landscape surrounding an issue that brings together deeply held principles and flashpoint politics.
Same-sex marriage first became a reality in the United States in 2004, when the Supreme Court in Massachusetts ruled that it was required under the equal protection clause of the state’s Constitution. Connecticut began allowing same-sex marriage in late 2k8. In April 2k9, Iowa’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of allowing gay couples to marry, & legislatures of Maine and Vermont passed laws granting the same right in the following weeks.
Civil unions, an intermediate step that supporters say has made same-sex marriage seem less threatening, are legal in New Jersey, Connecticut and Vermont. The latter 2 states are phasing them out after adopting same-sex marriage laws.
More at: nytimes.com
New England remains the nucleus of the same-sex marriage movement, with a campaign under way to extend marriage rights to gay men and lesbians in all six of the region’s states by 2012.
At least six states outside New England (Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and Washington) have same-sex marriage bills before their legislatures in 2009, but none are expected to pass.
Critics say the success of the movement in New England is largely because courts and legislatures, not voters, are making the decisions. Voters have approved constitutional bans on same-sex marriage in 26 states since the Massachusetts law, a landmark, took effect; the constitutions of four other states also limit marriage to heterosexuals. Opponents of same sex marriage in Maine have vowed to pursue a “people’s veto,” or a public referendum, in which Maine voters could overturn the law.
Another major front in the debate is California. On May 15, 2008, the Supreme Court of California voted 4-to-3 that a state law banning same-sex marriage constituted illegal discrimination because domestic partnerships were not a good enough substitute.
The California case, as with similar cases around the country, hinged on what to call unions between same-sex couples, and whether the courts or elected legislators should get to decide such a highly emotional issue.
Lawyers for the same-sex couples seeking the right to marry said that marriage was a unique expression of love and commitment and that calling their unions anything else was a form of second-class citizenship. Lawyers for groups opposed to same-sex marriage agreed that marriage was a fundamental bond with ancient roots, but they drew the opposite conclusion, saying that allowing same-sex couples to marry would undermine the institution of marriage itself.
In its decision, the court wrote that whatever term is used by the state must be granted to all couples who meet its requirements, whatever their gender. The court left open the possibility that another term could denote state-sanctioned unions so long as that term was used across the board.
Opponents quickly organized, and launched an initiative campaign, known as Proposition 8, that asked voters to ban marriages between gay couples. After an expensive and hard-fought campaign, the measure passed on Nov. 4, 2008, with 52 percent of the vote. (Florida and Arizona also passed bans at the same time.)
Groups who had fought Proposition 8 immediately filed suit to block it. The Supreme Court declined to delay its enactment, leaving the 18,000 same-sex marriages that had been performed between May and November in something of a legal limbo.
After a bruising hearing, California’s Supreme Court justices seemed ready to uphold the ban on same-sex marriage. But the justices also appeared reluctant to undo the 18,000 marriages conducted before the ban was passed. The court has 90 days to issue a ruling in the case.
Advocates for same-sex marriage are laying the groundwork for a campaign to overturn the measure, perhaps as soon as 2010.
PRESIDENT OBAMA AND GAY MARRIAGE
The flurry of activity in early 2009 has put pressure on President Obama to engage in a variety of gay issues. Mr. Obama has said he opposes same-sex marriage as a Christian but describes himself as a “fierce advocate of equality” for gay men and lesbians. While Mr. Obama has said he is “open to the possibility” that his views on same-sex marriage are misguided, he has offered no signal that he intends to change his position.
On legislation, Mr. Obama is charting a careful course. In addition to calling for the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the military, Mr. Obama supports a legislative repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that said states need not recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. Opponents of same-sex marriage say that is an inconsistency.
A new flare-up in the District of Columbia could ultimately put the controversy in the lap of the president. On the same day that the Maine House of Representatives voted to legalize same-sex marriage, the Washington City Council overwhelmingly approved a bill that recognizes gay marriages performed in other states. The federal government will have the chance to debate the issue because of a rule that charges Congress with approving the laws of the city.
To overturn it, the House and Senate would have to send a joint resolution to President Obama for his signature. If Congress chooses not to take action within 30 days, however, the law would automatically go into effect.
Previous NY Times related issues. .
Gov. John Baldacci said the measure was a matter of equal protection under the state’s Constitution.
May 7, 2009usNews
Gay rights groups say that momentum from back-to-back victories on same-sex marriage in Vermont and Iowa could spill into other states.
April 8, 2009usNews
A unanimous ruling has made Iowa the first Midwestern state where same-sex marriage will be legal.
April 4, 2009usNews
The official start of gay marriages came on Wednesday, less than a month after Connecticut’s highest court legalized the unions.
November 13, 2008nyregionNews
The losses in California, Arizona and Florida devastated supporters of same-sex marriage.
November 6, 2008usNews
Hundreds of gay and lesbian couples streamed into city halls from Boston to the Berkshires on Monday as Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex marriages.