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New England Leads Fight for Marriage Equality

On Monday, March 23rd, the Vermont Senate overwhelmingly passed (26 to 4) a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, making the state the first in the nation to take legislative rather than judicial steps toward granting marriage rights to same-sex couples.  Although House Speaker Shap Smith was confident a majority of representatives would vote in favor of the "marriage equality" act, Governor Jim Douglas revealed in a press conference Wednesday that he would veto the bill, though he did say he would accept a legislative override.  Speaker Shap, however, was less than confident about a veto-proof majority.  Nearly a decade ago, Vermont became the first state in the nation to enact civil unions for same-sex couples.  The current bill would end the separate institutions of civil unions and marriage, granting equal marriage rights and recognition to all committed couples.

The New Hampshire House of Representatives will vote today on a bill similar to Vermont's, and next month a legislative panel in Maine will hold a hearing on a bill to allow gay couples to marry, just as lawmakers did last month in Rhode Island.

Last year, Connecticut joined Massachusetts to become the second state in the country to allow same-sex marriage.  Only Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and California currently permit civil unions.  A court decision last year briefly allowed same-sex marriage in California, but the passage of Proposition 8 in November banned it.

The Minnesota House of Representatives is scheduled to hear four bills relating to gay marriage, including a bill to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, a bill that allows civil unions, and a bill that takes away gender-specific references to marriage in Minnesota Statutes, effectively doing away with the the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) currently on the state's books.

Movement on Civil Unions and Domestic Partnership Legislation: Hopes that the Hawaii legislature would grant civil unions the same rights and benefits as marriage were dashed when senators yesterday refused to buck Senate President Colleen Hanabusa's opposition to a maneuver that would have allowed the bill to come to a full Senate vote.  On February 12th, the Hawaii's House had passed HB 444 with a 33-17 vote, but the bill then stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee with a tie vote.  The motion to pull the bill out of committee and to a full Senate vote is extremely rare -- it was last done 10 years ago -- and after leadership's lobbying against overriding the normal lawmaking process, the maneuver failed to pass by 3 votes.  About 18 of the 25 senators, including Hanabusa had indicated they support civil unions. 

 

Out West, some states have been moving to advance domestic partnership legislation:

  • A Colorado bill to allow two adults, regardless of sex, to enter into "beneficiary agreements" passed that state's senate on Monday with two Republicans joining senate Democrats to pass the measure. The bill would allow two people the right to file an agreement with their county clerk that would grant them rights to inherit and make medical decisions.  In 2006, Colorado voters defeated a measure that would have given same-sex couples more of the rights and responsibilities of marriage.

  • A Nevada bill set for a hearing tomorrow before that Senate Labor and Commerce Committee would create domestic partnerships defined to give partners the same rights, protections and benefits as married couples.

  • A measure to grant a legal status to domestic partnerships failed in the New Mexico Senate last month.

Resources
Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) - Resources on New England Marriage Legislation
Human Rights Campaign (HRC) - Maps of State Laws & Policies
Progressive States Network - Gay Marriage - In the Courts, On the Ballot