Three steps forward, one step back for same-sex couples
 

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posted Friday, February 18, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 07

Three steps forward, one step back for same-sex couples
by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

As LGBT rights activists celebrate the passage of a civil unions bill in Hawaii, other states are also acting on legislation that impacts same-sex couples.

In Washington, openly Gay legislators Sen. Ed Murray (D-43) and Rep. Jim Moeller (D-49) have introduced a bill to legalize marriage equality.

Appropriately, the bill was introduced on Valentine's Day.

'Today is not the first time the issue of marriage equality for Gays and Lesbians and the Valentine's Day holiday have crossed paths,' the lawmakers said in a statement issued February 14.

They point out that in February 1998, the legislature overrode Gov. Gary Locke's veto to pass the state's DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act).

'We've made tremendous progress since 1998,' Murray said. 'Gay and Lesbian families in Washington now enjoy the same state spousal rights that their married straight friends enjoy - except for the name 'marriage.' The recognition that their loving, lifelong commitment is no different from the loving, lifelong commitment of straight couples is the final step to achieving full equality. I believe the Legislature and the public are both ready to take that final step.'

In 2008 the legislature passed - and voters later ratified - an expansion of domestic partnership rights to include all the benefits of marriage except for the official designation.

Moeller agreed that the state was moving toward full equality for its LGBT residents.

'Over the past several years, the Legislature and the public together have been steadily building a bridge to equality for Gay and Lesbian families,' he said.

Moeller cited the passage of the Anderson-Murray Civil Rights Bill in 2006 protecting Gays and Lesbians from discrimination in employment, housing, and financial transactions, and then three successive years of securing broader and broader domestic partnership rights - which concluded in the successful Referendum 71 campaign.

Maryland
As SGN goes to press, Maryland is apparently on the verge of passing marriage equality legislation.

On February 17, the Maryland Senate's Judicial Proceedings Committee voted 7-4 to send the marriage equality bill to the full Senate for debate next week.

Two previously undeclared Democratic state senators used the occasion of Valentine's Day to announce they would vote for the bill.

At least 24 senators are needed to pass legislation in Maryland, and whip counts indicate that 23 or 24 senators are now on board. One Republican joins 22 or 23 Democrats in supporting the measure.

Eleven Republican senators join nine Democrats in opposing same-sex marriage.

The Senate vote is considered crucial, because the House - dominated by Democrats from suburbs of D.C. - is expected to pass the bill, and Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley has already said he will sign it if passed.

Colorado
Openly Gay Colorado Sen. Pat Steadman also introduced a bill on Valentine's Day to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples.

Steadman said that the bill 'is a method of recognizing committed relationships between two people, and allowing them to access the full scope of protections in Colorado law.'

The bill is expected to pass through the Democratic-controlled Senate, but will face some trouble in the House, where Republicans have a slim 33-32 majority over Democrats.

Marriage equality is banned by an amendment to Colorado's constitution passed in 2006. Same-sex civil unions are not prohibited, however.

The amendment passed with 55% of voters approving. An initiative on the same ballot that would have passed domestic partnerships was shot down 47% to 53%.

Indiana
In Indiana, on the other hand, the legislature is taking the initial steps to add a ban on same-sex couples to the state's constitution.

The Indiana House of Representatives voted February 15 to pass an amendment to the state's constitution prohibiting any legal recognition whatsoever for same-sex couples.

The House approved the measure on a bipartisan 70-26 vote after a mere 30 minutes of debate.

The amendment says, 'Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Indiana. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.'

The House action begins an amendment process that could bring the amendment before voters in a November 2014 referendum.

The bill is expected to pass easily in the Indiana Senate, which has passed similar amendments before.

It then has to be passed by the House and Senate in one subsequent session before going to the voters.

Indianapolis Democrat Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan called the ban 'a blow that hurts thousands across this great state, and taints our constitution with the language of hate.'

She added that she has friends and neighbors who are 'deeply, deeply hurt by this legislation.'



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