PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Gay marriage supporters enjoyed landmark victories in 2012 and are hoping for an even bigger win at the U.S. Supreme Court this year, but in the meantime political battles are brewing in at least six states where marriage redefinition bills likely will be considered.
Significantly, all six have governors who appear supportive of gay marriage. Also, the November elections saw gay marriage supporters increase their strength in the state legislatures.
Leading the way are Illinois and Rhode Island, where gay marriage bills are being pushed and potentially could pass within weeks. Other states that likely will consider gay marriage bills in 2013 are Delaware, Hawaii, New Jersey and Minnesota. Of the six states, all but one – Minnesota – have legalized same-sex civil unions, which grant all the legal benefits of marriage, minus the name.
Nine states and the District of Columbia recognize gay marriage, while 30 states have constitutional amendments defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Last November, voters, for the first time, endorsed gay marriage at the ballot, when Maine, Maryland and Washington state approved it.
Christ Plante, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage-Rhode Island, says bills in each of the states can be defeated, but it will require voters speaking out. The National Organization for Marriage has played a key role in defending traditional marriage on the state level.
“In all of these places, the most important thing is: Are voters speaking up?” Plante told Baptist Press. “Are people of faith calling their representatives and their senators in their statehouses and saying, ‘Don’t redefine marriage.’ This is really up to the people. Legislators, in most cases, do in fact listen to their constituency. If a representative gets hundreds of calls on this issue, they will take note. That’s particularly what’s going to need to happen in Minnesota, Illinois, Delaware and Rhode Island, where we’re in a defensive mode.”
In Illinois, a gay marriage bill passed a Senate committee in the final days of the lame duck session but didn’t come to a vote in the full chamber before the session ended. But with Democrats having increased their majorities in the state legislature, supporters are hopeful it can pass in the new session, which already has begun. (Democrats control the legislature in all six states where gay marriage is being considered.) Traditionalists are hoping more moderate Democrats from outside of Chicago can help defeat the bill. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn backs gay marriage.
In Rhode Island, a gay marriage bill is favored to pass the state House, where House Speaker Gordon Fox, who is gay, says it is a priority.
“We have a huge battle on our hands, with tons of pressure and tons of money coming against us,” Plante said.
Rhode Island is the only New England state where gay marriage isn’t legal. Plante hopes the bill can be killed in the Senate, where Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed is a bill opponent. Also opposing the bill is Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Michael J. McCaffrey, whose committee likely will consider the issue. Paiva Weed and McCaffrey are Democrats in a state where the issues don’t always follow political lines.
The Catholic Church’s opposition to gay marriage has been critical in preventing it from being legalized in Rhode Island in past years, Plante said. Supporters of gay marriage tried but failed to defeat McCaffrey in a primary, Plante said.
Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, a former Republican turned Independent, supports gay marriage.
Legislatures have a legitimate reason to maintain the traditional definition of marriage, Plante said.
“Marriage as the union of one man and one woman is unique because it’s only the union of men and women that can bring forth children. Children need a mom and a dad,” he said. “That’s why societies throughout history, across the globe, have supported marriage and protected it. This unique institution binds mothers and fathers to their children, and their children grow up in a stable home that leads to a respectable and productive next generation. We understand that doesn’t happen all the time, but that is the ideal. And government has the duty to incentivize and support that ideal.”
Following is a brief look at the four other states where gay marriage bills could be considered:
Delaware: Democratic Gov. Jack Merkell said last year he believes gay marriage is “inevitable” in his state. He also said he expects the legislature to tackle the issue this year.
Minnesota: When citizens defeated a constitutional marriage amendment in November, they also gave Democrats control of the House and Senate. With Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton openly supporting a bill, gay marriage supporters hope to see gay marriage legalized in Minnesota in 2013. Sponsors have promised to introduce a bill.
Hawaii: Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie refused to defend the state’s constitutional marriage amendment in court, saying he believed it was unconstitutional. A federal judge upheld the amendment in August. But because of the unique language of the amendment, gay marriage supporters still have a path to legalization. That’s because the amendment did not define marriage but simply gave the legislature the power to define marriage in the traditional sense, which legislators subsequently did. That means legislators in the state also could legalize gay marriage.
New Jersey: Republican Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a gay marriage bill in the past but some supporters hope to put the issue before voters, asking them to legalize gay marriage. Christie has said he would be supportive of letting the voters decide.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.)