February 7, 2012

Gay-marriage battle heating up in several states, including Maine

Ricardo Lopez / LOS ANGELES TIMES

LOS ANGELES — Gay marriage measures are moving forward in the states of Washington, New Jersey and Maryland, but neither activists for nor against same-sex unions are considering those outcomes to be done deals. And even as they brace themselves for ongoing fights in those states, supporters and opponents are preparing for other battles across the country.

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In ths Jan. 23, 2012, photo, Ken Jackson, right, and Don Taylor carry a sign that reads "Stand Up For Marriage – One Man + One Woman" following a rally at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash.

AP

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The battles are occurring not just in statehouses, but also on the streets. With lawmakers considering expansions of the right to marry, activists are working to amend some state constitutions to define marriage as being between one man and one woman.

Meanwhile, public opinion on the matter appears to be changing. In May, a Gallup poll showed that, for the first time, a majority of Americans approved of gay marriage. In that survey, 53 percent of respondents said they approved of same-sex marriages, while 45 percent disapproved.

Here's a national roundup of legislation and upcoming or pending ballot initiatives, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a gay marriage advocacy group that tracks legislation and related efforts nationally.

Maryland: After a failed legislative attempt last year, a bill to legalize gay marriage is getting some traction this go-round. A Senate committee held public debate last week on a bill introduced by Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, and a committee vote is expected in a couple of weeks. Opponents of the bill have indicated that they will try to put the issue to a referendum if it passes both chambers of the Legislature.

Washington: The Senate passed a bill legalizing gay marriage Wednesday, and the House is expected to advance it to Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat, who has said she would sign the legislation. It's expected to reach her desk this month. Opponents of gay marriage are working to schedule a referendum on the matter, probably on the November ballot. The outcome of that vote would determine whether same-sex marriages can actually take place.

New Jersey: Lawmakers are working to lock down the number of votes needed to override Gov. Chris Christie's expected veto of a bill permitting gay marriage. Democrats believe they have enough votes to pass a bill, but Christie, a Republican, has vowed to veto such a measure if it reaches his desk. He is urging lawmakers to leave the matter up to voters; lawmakers have said they have no intention of humoring the governor in such a way.

North Carolina: Voters in May will determine if the state's constitution will be amended to define marriage. But unlike many other states' existing constitutional amendments on the matter, the wording of North Carolina's amendment would virtually outlaw same-sex civil unions and domestic partnerships as well, said Sarah Warbelow, state legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign. Of note, the May election is also a Republican primary, so Democratic turnout is expected to be light.

Minnesota: Conservative groups have placed on the November ballot a measure that could amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Gay marriage is already prohibited in the state, but conservative groups hope that an amendment would stymie future legislative efforts or court decisions from permitting gay marriage.

Maine: Legislators passed a bill to legalize gay marriage three years ago, which the governor signed, but in November 2009 voters reversed that effort via referendum by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent. Based on evolving public opinion and a conservative shift in the Capitol, gay marriage advocates are now counting on voters in November to decide whether to allow same-sex marriage. Equality Maine, a gay rights group, submitted signatures last month to place the referendum on the ballot.

Same-sex marriage is legal in six states – New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont – and the District of Columbia.

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