The Maryland State Senate passed a bill approving same-sex marriages in that state yesterday with a vote of 25 to 22. Democratic governor Martin O’Malley has promised to sign the bill into law. With yesterday’s vote, The Old Line State became the third state to pass gay marriage with legislative action in less than a month.
For supporters of same-sex marriage in the United States, these last few weeks have been monumental. On February 1, the Washington State Senate kicked off the party by voting 28-21 in favor of gay marriage. Six days later, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirms Judge Walker’s decision that declared Proposition 8 unconstitutional.
The following day on February 8, the Washington House of Representatives passed same-sex marriage with a vote of 55-43. Governor Christine Gregoire signed the bill into law on February 13, making for a very happy Valentine’s Day for Washington LGBT couples.
New Jersey passed a same-sex marriage bill on the 16th and 17th. As promised, Governor Chris Christie vetoed the bill. Marriage equality supporters have until the end of 2012 to override the veto.
On February 22, District Judge Jeffrey White, a George W. Bush appointee, declared part of the Defense of Marriage act unconstitutional. White wrote that Karen Golinski, a lawyer who works for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, had her rights violated under the equal protection clause of the US Constitution. She was denied spousal benefits.
Naturally, the story doesn’t end with these victories. Anti-gay groups are working hard to have every one of these events reversed. The National Organization for Marriage has vowed to gather enough signatures to place gay marriage on the ballot in both Washington and Maryland. NOM and other anti-gay groups have convinced their followers that allowing gay marriage would adversely affect their own marriages or “attack the family” (whatever that means). As such, the battle lines are drawn — equality versus lies and bigotry.
North Carolina, the last southern state to not have a bigoted anti-gay marriage amendment, will decide whether to write discrimination into their constitution.
Then there’s Maine. Gay Marriage will be on the ballot this November in that state. Interestingly, it wasn’t the anti-gay crowd that put it there. According to the Huffington Post, EqualityMaine, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Maine Women’s Lobby turned in 105,000 signatures to force a referendum in November. Only 57,277 were needed.
Three years ago, the Maine legislature approved gay marriage, only to have it beaten back by a referendum. The vote was close, only 53 percent to 47 percent. Marriage equality supporters are convinced that for the first time, they’ll have the public’s support to approve gay marriage in that state.
“Many people have changed their minds,” Betsy Smith, executive director of EqualityMaine, said at a news conference at the State House.
Smith cited the results of a poll in December by Goodwin Simon Strategic research that showed 54 percent of 800 likely voters favored allowing same-sex couples to marry in Maine.
“The number of signatures we gathered and the thoughtful conversations we’ve been having with voters tell us that Mainers are eager to speak on this question again,” she said.
It’s too early to tell if gay marriage will become a major issue during this year’s presidential campaign to the extent that it was in 2004. Indications, though, suggest that it’s not quite on the lips of voters just yet. Same-sex marriage has not been a major topic in the GOP presidential debates. It’s highly possible, though, that the reason for the silence on the issue is because they already oppose marriage equality, thus leaving the issue on a back burner for the moment.
Backlash from these victories is all but certain. With myopic groups like the National Organization for Marriage and certified hate groups like the American Family Association and the Family Research Council all frothing at the mouth over these victories for equality, it’s a fair bet that they’ll pull out all the stops and their usual lies in the attempt to beat back the tide of history.
As more gay Americans come out and plead their case to their friends, co-workers, and families, marriage equality is gaining more and more supporters. One of the more interesting heroes to the cause of equality is former Vice President Dick Cheney, who lobbied for the Maryland marriage bill. Cheney’s daughter is a lesbian.
These victories are sweet, indeed. With the bitter battles ahead in North Carolina, Minnesota, and Oregon, Ohio, and Maine, and pending efforts in Colorado, Washington, and Maryland, gay marriage foes are geared up for their side of the culture war. This year’s referendums may allow us one or two major victories in Oregon and Maine. Washington and Maryland are also possibilities. Minnesota and North Carolina, though, are polling toward adding discrimination into their state constitutions.
We can’t rest. We can’t settle. This fight is finally starting to trend toward equality, and the tide is clearly turning. If you live in any of the states that are facing ballot referendums, it’s more critical than ever to be a part of your community and to share with your friends and family why gay marriage is important to you, and why the time is come for all of us to say, “We do.”