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In reversal, same-sex marriage advocates playing offense

CHRIS JOHNSON | Washington Blade
Friday, February 24, 2012
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The issue of same-sex marriage has returned to the national stage in an unprecedented way as numerous states throughout the country are seeing action on the issue.

In the past week, several states have seen developments on marriage. Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into law marriage legislation, while New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a similar bill that reached his desk.

The Maryland House voted to approve marriage legislation by a vote of 72-67, clearing what is seen as the most difficult hurdle in getting the legislation to Gov. Martin O’Malley’s desk. The Senate approved the bill on Thursday.

A surprise development in Hawaii was also announced on Wednesday. According to Hawaii News Now, Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) announced he would no longer defend in court a state constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage against federal legislation, while Health Director Loretta Fuddy said she’d continue defending the amendment.

These actions come on the heels of a three-judge panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against the constitutionality of Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage. Anti-gay forces this week appealed the ruling to the full appellate court.

The issue is also at the ballot. Advocates in Minnesota and North Carolina are working to beat back anti-gay marriage amendments, while advocates in Maine are preparing to push the first ever pro-marriage equality ballot in their state.

Meanwhile, anti-gay forces continue threatening to take away marriage rights in New Hampshire through repeal legislation.

M.V. Lee Badgett, a lesbian professor of economics and director of the Center for Public Policy & Administration at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, said she’s struck by “the tipping of the balance toward the proactive and positive side” of the debate on same-sex marriage.

In previous years, the issue of same-sex marriage has predominately seen activity in terms of anti-gay marriage ballot initiatives that — with the exception of Arizona in 2006 — have all been approved by voters, but that situation has changed.

“In four states, the marriage equality forces are on the offensive, with one new victory and others in sight,” Badgett said. “In a fifth, New Hampshire, the effort is more defensive to preserve an earlier win, and a sixth, Maine, is led by people determined to get back the right granted by the legislature but taken away by voters.”

Badgett, also research director at the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, noted only two states, North Carolina and Minnesota, have situations “like the ‘old’ model” of efforts to institute a ban on same-sex marriage in state constitutions.

“That political progress is very likely to reflect a growing cultural acknowledgement that same-sex couples can have the same kind of loving, committed relationships as different-sex couples, so they should also have the same right to marry,” Badgett said.

The issue is already playing out in the 2012 presidential election as the candidates vying for the nomination have adopted positions against marriage equality as part of their campaigns.

Just after the marriage legislation was signed in Washington, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum made a campaign appearance in the state, saying Gregoire’s signature isn’t the “final word” and urging opponents of same-sex marriage to take action. Anti-gay forces have the opportunity to bring the measure to the ballot if they collect 120,577 petition signatures and deliver them to state officials before the June 6 deadline.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has taken an interest in the marriage issue as well. Prior to the New Hampshire primary, he said he supports the repeal of the same-sex marriage law in the state. Both Romney and Santorum have also decried the Ninth Circuit panel’s ruling against Proposition 8 in California.

But what about President Obama? Sixteen months after first saying he could “evolve” on the issue, the president has yet to publicly endorse same-sex marriage, despite other work his administration has done on behalf of same-sex couples, including calling for repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and declaring the anti-gay law unconstitutional.

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