As I mentioned in my previous article on gay marriage, states are moving toward legalizing gay marriage one step at a time. Maine recently reversed its previous ballot measure to legalize gay marriage in 2012, and several other states are moving in this direction. In fact, the pace of acceptance and legalization seems to be accelerating.
The LA Times has a very useful graphic with a slider, which shows how the country has evolved in its support for gay marriage. However, in 2013 there are seven states queued up to fully recognize gay marriage through legislation, ballot proposals, or court actions, including Illinois, Rhode Island, Delaware, New Jersey, California, Hawaii, and Minnesota.
Currently, in Illinois there is legislation pending to legalize gay marriage. Support of this legislation has been mixed, and some support has come from very surprising sources such as Pat Brady, the Chairman of the Illinois Republican Party who recently endorsed gay marriage. On the other side of the argument, some important African American churches have threatened a political backlash, since they believe their opposition to the legislation has been overlooked. Regardless of the public controversies, gay marriage legislation will be re-introduced into the new legislative session this week, and supporters are optimistic that it will pass within the new session of the Illinois state legislature.
2) Rhode Island
Rhode Island is considered to be one of the states where gay marriage legislation has the greatest chance of success. Democrats have controlling majorities in the Rhode Island state legislature and the speaker of the house has promised a floor vote early in the 2013 session.
Delaware already has laws on the books recognizing civil unions, granting most of the rights and privileges of marriage. However, like many states with civil unions, without the full force of marriage some aspects of civil unions such as property rights are ambiguous. The governor of Delaware has made public declarations in support of gay marriage, and he believes that full marriage equality will become law in 2013. The 2013 session of the Delaware legislature opened with new pressure to legalize gay marriage after gay marriage became legal in neighboring Maryland on New Year’s Day.
4) New Jersey
New Jersey has struggled with gay marriage because of Governor Chris Christie, who has said he would veto any legislation changing the legal definition of marriage in New Jersey, which he did in 2012. Christie has said he would support a ballot measure on gay marriage, but LGBT rights advocates in New Jersey are uncomfortable moving forward with a ballot proposal. The legislation to put gay marriage to the voters is moving forward in spite of the lukewarm reception by LGBT advocates because of resistance by Governor Christie and the inability of supporters to garner the votes necessary to override his veto.
California passed Proposition 8 in 2008 with a simple majority. In a state with one of the largest gay communities in the U.S., San Francisco, this was viewed as a major setback for marriage equality. However, in just four years, polling in California and across the country has flipped, with the majority of people now supporting gay marriage. Proposition 8 is now before the Supreme Court along with DOMA. Oral arguments are scheduled to begin on March 27, 2013, with a full ruling in June of 2013. The ruling on Proposition 8 will decide the fate of marriage equality in 2013 for California and the ruling could pave the way for legalization across the nation. If gay marriage loses in the courts, it is likely this will be put before the voters again in California.
Hawaii has been a gay friendly state for many years. In 1998, it passed a constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage, but the amendment also allows the legislature to define marriage. Consequently, it is likely that legislation will be introduced in the second half of January to begin the process of legalizing gay marriage in Hawaii. This state already has a number of laws preventing discrimination against LGBT individuals and couples. Fully recognizing marriage is the last barrier to equal protection under the law for Hawaiians.
Minnesota experienced a bitter public fight over gay marriage in 2012, defeating a ballot proposal to ban gay marriage in the November election. Democrats and supporters of marriage equality now hold the majority in the Minnesota legislature. Much to the dismay of Tea Party advocates and social conservatives such as Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.), it is expected that Minnesota will move forward with legislation legalizing same sex marriage. It is unlikely this will move forward quickly, but supporters are hoping this becomes law in 2013.
Supporters are hopeful that by June of 2013, the pathway for legalization of same sex marriage across the country will be clear. If the Supreme Court overturns Proposition 8 from California and DOMA, the likely precedent will mean any law that specifically bans same sex marriage is a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. If the court upholds Proposition 8 and DOMA, then advocates will have to continue the fight state by state.
With seven states moving toward marriage equality in 2013, it is likely that marriage equality will be law in the majority of U.S. states by 2015.