Hot on the heels of not only the recent Californian Prop 8 ruling but also the introduction of marriage equality in Washington State, now it’s all go in (take a breath) Maryland, New Jersey (a bit), Maine, and once again in California.
The momentum for marriage equality continues to gallop apace across the Atlantic. Yesterday, Maryland moved within inches of recognising marriage equality when the state Senate approved bill, HB 438.
Maryland now stands in a similar position to New Jersey just one week ago when the state Senate in that neighbouring state passed an initiative for marriage equality which only needed the state Governor’s signature to give it concrete effect in law. Unfortunately, the New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, vetoed the bill.
Maryland Governor, Martin O’Malley, thankfully intends to “stand on the right side of history”* and has already lobbied legislators in the Houses of Legislature vociferously to support the bill, and promised to sign the bill. He is expected to sign the bill over the coming week.
Maryland is one of the US’ smallest states but also one its most populous with more than 5.8 million inhabitants. Maryland will shortly join Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont, and also the District of Columbia, as the seventh state to legalise marriage for same-sex couples.
For Marylanders, there was a sense of déjà vu because a similar provision for marriage equality was put to the houses last year but was defeated.
The House of Delegates last week had already voted 72-67 in favour of the measure. Less than a week later, the state Senate supported the bill with 25-22.
When Gov. O’Malley signs the bill and introduces marriage equality for Maryland, legalisation of marriage for same-sex couples faces one more hurdle, however. Anti-marriage equality campaigners have declared their intention to put the bill to referendum during November’s Presidential election. They will need 55,726 signatures in order to put it on November’s ballot. Opponents to marriage equality in Washington are also campaigning for marriage equality legislation, which was signed into law less than 10 days, to be put to a public vote in November.
There is clearly a lot of work to be done by legislators and marriage equality proponents to engage and educate voters in Maryland but for today, the news from Maryland is good.
There is also some good news in New Jersey. Although Gov. Christie’s veto was hurtful and disappointing, the movement for equality there continues unhindered and on 21st February, a case brought by seven couples that claim the state’s civil union system is harmful to families because it is not on par with marital protections and therefore violates equal protection provisions in the state and federal constitution.
Why Marriage Matters Main tells us:
The Maine Secretary of State today confirmed that enough signatures have been verified to place a Citizens’ Initiative allowing same-sex couples to receive marriage licenses on the November ballot.
“Just as my own thinking has evolved on this issue, more and more people in Maine are coming to understand that loving, committed same-sex couples should not be denied the freedom to marry,” said Pastor Michael Gray of Old Orchard Beach United Methodist Church and the citizens initiative’s lead signer. “We gathered signatures from voters in more than 450 towns all over Maine, and those people signed the petition because they want the chance to vote on this issue again so their gay and lesbian family, friends and neighbors can have access to marriage licenses.”
Advocates turned in more than 105,000 signatures from 453 towns and cities on Jan. 26. According to the Secretary of State, 85,216 of those signatures have been verified, far surpassing the 57,277 required.
Freedom to Marry tells us:
Today Maine’s Secretary of State, Charlie Summers, confirmed that marriage advocates have collected enough signatures to allow a ballot measure this November that, if passed, would extend the freedom to marry to gay and lesbian couples. The signatures were submitted for verification at the end of January.
In order to enact marriage legislation in Maine, advocates will need to win at the ballot and are therefore bringing the ballot measure proactively.
From the east coast to the west, where the US Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) has once again been ruled unconstitutional.
A federal court in San Francisco yesterday issued the ruling in relation to a couple who married under Californian law.
In this latest ruling (the Golinski case) The federal judge found that DOMA violated the rights of a federal employee who was denied the opportunity to enroll her wife in the health benefits program available to opposite spouses of federal judiciary employees.
DOMA prohibits the recognition of same-sex marriages for purposes of federal benefits. The Obama Administration has already announced that it considers DOMA discriminatory and has opted not to enforce it.
The court’s ruling is another example of judicial picking apart of the fallacies regularly put forward (in this jurisdiction as well as in the US) as arguments against marriage equality. It’s not too long, and well worth a read.
Also I just love the plaintiff’s wife’s surname: Cunninghis. Best. Lesbian name. Ever.
Some quotes from the ruling:
This action presents a challenge to the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA as applied to Ms. Golinski, a lesbian woman married under California law, who is unable to secure federal health benefits for her same-sex spouse.
The question before the Court is whether Section 3 of DOMA, as applied to Ms.Golinski, violates constitutional principles of equal protection.
The Court concluded:
The Court has found that DOMA unconstitutionally discriminates against same-sexmarried couples. […]
In this matter, the Court finds that DOMA, as applied to Ms. Golinski, violates her rightto equal protection of the law under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution by,without substantial justification or rational basis, refusing to recognize her lawful marriage toprevent provision of health insurance coverage to her spouse.
The Court summarised some of the statements made by US legislators when debating the DOMA Bill:
The House Report on DOMA reflected Congress’ “moral disapproval of homosexuality,and a moral conviction that heterosexuality better comports with traditional (especially Judeo-Christian) morality.” [...]. In his expression of these objectives, Henry Hyde, then-Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, stated that“[m]ost people do not approve of homosexual conduct … and they express their disapprobation through the law.” [...].
In the floor debate, members of Congress repeatedly expressed their disapprobation of homosexuality, calling it “immoral,” “depraved,” “unnatural,” “based on perversion,” and “an attack upon God’s principles.” [...]. Members of Congress argued that marriage by gay men and lesbians would “demean” and “trivialize” heterosexual marriage and might indeed be “the final blow to the American family.” [...] (“Allowing for gay marriages would be the final straw, it would devaluate the love between a man and a woman and weaken us as a Nation.”). Senator Helms, in a statement prepared for the hearing, expressed his disapprobation: “[Those opposed to DOMA] are demanding that homosexuality be considered as just another lifestyle – these are the people who seek to force their agenda upon the vast majority of Americans who reject the homosexual lifestyle …Homosexuals and lesbians boast that they are close to realizing their goal – legitimizing their behavior … At the heart of this debate is the moral and spiritual survival of this Nation.