Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Month in Marriage Equality: January Part 2

Washington Governor Chris Gregore
It was reported last week that the votes to pass Washington state’s proposed marriage equality bill had materialized (even though there are still a few undecided legislators). With Governor Chris Gregoire on-board, it looks like a slam-dunk for passage. True. However, there is a potential snag. The opposition to marriage equality has already said that they will try to put the issue to voters. With Washington having a relatively low threshold in terms of how many signatures would need to be acquired to do so (120,577 signatures to be exact), the question is likely to make it to the voters of the state. There is one more tactic that the governor has to keep this from happening: stall her signature. If she waits until the last possible moment, the opposition to marriage equality may not have enough time to get the necessary signatures because they cannot begin until the bill is actually signed. Their deadline for delivery of the signatures is July 6th.

If (despite all of the political maneuvering) the measure still ends up going to the ballot, there is good news there. A poll performed late last year shows that a majority of Washingtonians support marriage equality. Also, should this battle ultimately be won, the success may encourage Washington’s neighbor to the south, Oregon, to organize a pro-equality push as well.

Addendum: Later in the week in which this was posted, the Washington state Senate passed the marriage equality measure with a 28-21 vote. The Senate was the hard part of the legislative process for this bill, with the House and the Governor expected to pass/sign the bill.

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley
Maryland’s fight for marriage equality entered round two last week when a measure was introduced into the state legislature. After failing last year (it passed in the Senate but died in the House), marriage equality advocates were encouraged by the passage of New York state’s equality bill. In fact, the fight in Maryland this year is in many ways modeled after New York’s in two particular ways. First, Governor Martin O’Malley will be far more involved than he was last year as New York’s Governor (Andrew Cuomo) was very active and influential there. Secondly, there will be stronger protections for religious groups and organizations, which is something that helped get New York’s Senate over the tipping point in favor of the measure. There is also more effort being placed on building support within the state’s significant and influential African-American community (the lack of which may have sunk last year’s effort).

Opponents of marriage equality in Maryland have threatened to put the issue on the ballot. There are somewhat conflicting polls on whether or not it would pass when placed to voters. Most polls say either a slight majority are for equality while others are within the margin of error, so that remains an open question.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
The votes for marriage equality are there in New Jersey. The wrinkle is the fact the Governor Chris Christie has maintained that he will veto the measure should it reach his desk. Furthermore, he has stated that he believes the question should be put to the voters in a referendum. His gubernatorial counterparts in Maryland and Washington (the aforementioned O’Malley and Gregoire) responded by saying that putting civil rights up for a referendum is a terrible idea. In fact, the last time New Jersey did so, it was about giving women the right to vote. That measure failed. He stuck his foot in his mouth in other ways as well, but that’s a somewhat different story. If it came down to a referendum, a Quinnipiac poll showed that a slim majority (52%) of New Jersey supports marriage equality.

In preparation for the Governor’s veto, equality advocates are mustering the 2/3’s majority necessary in both legislative houses for a veto override. This will be a Herculean task whose outcome is far from certain.

It has been a big month. Some was bitter, some was sweet. All-in-all, there is reason to believe that this will be a very good year for marriage equality. We just have to keep fighting the good fight and changing the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens in any way we can. There are still many months ahead and lots of work to do.

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