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Marriage Equality Update

Progress toward full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans seems to jump forward with every year that goes by, though we certainly have a ways to go. Only a few years ago, the fight for LGBT equality, despite making gradual progress in public opinion polling, suffered setbacks in the 2008 elections.  That year a majority of Californian voters approved an amendment to the state constitution that stripped away the right to marry from same-sex couples — and majorities in Arizona and Florida approved similar measures by wide margins.

Since then, a majority of Americans say they have come to view same-sex relationships as “morally acceptable” (2010), and now support marriage equality (2011). These changes in opinion have wrought substantive changes in policy: In 2011, New York state, for example, passed a marriage equality bill, and Massachusetts passed a transgender rights bill.

Just one month into 2012, other states seem poised to take additional steps on the journey to treating LGBT Americans as full citizens. In the past two months, two governors introduced legislation that would grant marriage equality: Governor Gregoire (D) of Washington state and Governor O’Malley (D) of Maryland.

In Washington State, the main holdup for marriage equality has been an insufficient number of votes for the bill in the state Senate, even though there have been more than enough votes for the measure in its state House of Representatives. Recently, however, LGBT equality advocates gained the 25th vote that we so needed – and marriage equality now appears to have a majority.

In Maryland, a bill to legalize marriage equality narrowly failed in 2011 when sponsors realized they did not have the votes in the House of Delegates, but that hasn’t stopped activists from trying again this year. And, this time, it seems poised to pass: With the strong support of a wide coalition of groups, as well as the governor, things are looking good.

Elsewhere, marriage equality efforts have been making progress as well. After a 2010 defeat of a marriage equality effort, the New Jersey state legislature will again be voting on the issue later this year, and the measure now has the support of the State Senate President, a significant boost that was lacking for the last vote and increases the chances the chamber will now approve it. Even though Governor Chris Christie (R) has pledged to veto the bill, saying that NJ voters should be able to vote on marriage rights, activists and state Democrats have been waging a campaign to persuade him. If the question were to go to a popular vote of New Jerseyans today, a majority (52%) would likely vote to end marriage discrimination.

In 2009, Maine voters approved a referendum that instituted a policy of marriage discrimination. However, in November 2012, those same voters will have the opportunity to repeal that policy, thanks to months of hard work by activists working on behalf of LGBT equality who gathered 105,000 signatures – more than the required amount – to bring the issue back to a vote. As of now, the marriage equality ballot proposal seems poised to pass: 54% of Maine voters say that they support the right to marry for same-sex couples.

Image courtesy of Equality Maryland

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Noah Baron

About Noah Baron

Noah Baron is a 2011-2012 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant. He is from Princeton Junction, NJ, and a graduate of Columbia University.


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