"Marriage Equality Roundup: The Push For Fifty"
Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s June rulings striking down the unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act and enabling California to resume same-sex marriages, supporters of LGBT equality have begun a full-court press to expand the number of states with full equality from 13 to 50. Here is a rundown of the legal challenges, legislative efforts, and referendum processes in states that do not yet have civil marriage.
Arkansas has had a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages and unions since 2004. In July, a group of Arkansas families filed a federal lawsuit against the state and local governments challenging whether the state constitutional ban violates the U.S. constitution. Also, while it is unlikely that an Arkansas court will rule its own state constitution unconstitutional, another group of plaintiffs have brought a state case challenging the constitutionality of the ban.
Arizona has had a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages since 2008. In June, a group of activists filed paperwork to attempt to get a repeal on the 2014 ballot — but last week the group said it was tabling its efforts for the moment. Other groups are reportedly planning a 2016 repeal effort.
Colorado has had a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages since 2006, but enacted a civil unions law earlier this year. LGBT rights supporters are currently plotting a path to marriage equality and openly gay House Speaker Mark Ferrandino (D) has said he expects a repeal referendum on the ballot sometime this decade if a court ruling doesn’t render it unnecessary.
Florida has had a constitutional amendment banning same sex-marriages and unions since 2008. A group of LGBT rights supporters are attempting to collect enough signatures to put a repeal vote on the ballot, but such a vote would require a difficult 60 percent threshold. Most other Florida groups are focusing their efforts on building popular support for a future repeal effort, down the road. Equality Florida, the state’s largest LGBT rights group, is currently also seeking plaintiffs for a federal court challenge .
Hawaii has had a civil unions law since 2011. Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D), a strong supporter of LGBT rights, announced Monday that he will call the state legislature into special session beginning on October 28 to consider a marriage equality bill. Should that stall, a federal court case is also slowly working its way through the appeals process — the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has requested filings by October on an appeal of a district judge’s August 2012 ruling against marriage equality.
Illinois has had a civil unions law since 2011. A marriage equality bill passed the state Senate in February, but stalled in the Illinois House of Representatives. Supporters may try again in the fall veto session, which begins October 22, but are still working to secure the needed votes. A state court case could also bring marriage equality to the Prairie State — a Cook County Judge heard arguments last month in a same-sex marriage case and will announce whether the case will proceed on September 27.
Indiana is one state in danger of going in the wrong direction: the Republican state legislature is considering proposing a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages. The legislature has already endorsed the amendment once — if they do so again in the next year, it would likely go before voters in 2014.
Kentucky has had a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages and unions since 2004. In July, a same-sex couple filed a federal lawsuit arguing that the state’s amendment violates the U.S. constitution.
Michigan has had a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages and unions since 2004. On October 1, a federal judge will hear arguments about whether the state’s amendment violates the U.S. Constitution — and he has suggested that couple challenging the ban is likely to prevail.
Nevada has had a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages since 2002, but enacted a domestic partnership law in 2009. Earlier this year, the state legislature endorsed a repeal of the constitutional ban — if an identical proposal passes in the 2015 session, voters would see a repeal referendum on the ballot in 2016. While a federal district judge ruled against marriage equality last November, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has requested filings by October on an appeal of his ruling.
New Jersey has had a civil unions law since 2007. Gov. Chris Christie (R) vetoed a marriage equality bill last February, though the state legislature may attempt to override his veto this year. Because an earlier state Supreme Court ruling held that same-sex couples must be entitled to equal legal benefits — something rendered impossible after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Defense of Marriage Act ruling granted federal rights to same-sex marriages but not civil unions — LGBT activists have asked the state courts to order marriage equality. A state judge heard arguments last month in the case and is expected to rule in the near future.
New Mexico has no constitutional prohibition on same-sex marriage and no explicit statutory ban — but still has not previously allowed the practice, due to an implicit ban in the language governing marriage license forms. Last month, Doña Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins (D) announced he would begin issuing marriages licenses to same-sex couples. After three state judges also determined that any prohibition would be inconsistent with both the state and federal constitutions, seven more counties followed suit. The New Mexico Supreme Court announced Friday that it will hold a October 23 hearing to consider a statewide determination of whether same-sex marriage is legal in the state. In the meantime, the federal government is recognizing the marriages as valid.
North Carolina has had a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages and unions since last year. In July, six North Carolina families amended a federal case challenging the state’s anti-LGBT adoption ban to expand it to challenge whether the state’s constitutional ban violates the U.S. Constitution.
Ohio has had a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages and unions since 2004. A group of Ohioans are collecting signatures hoping to put a repeal effort on the ballot next year, while other LGBT rights groups are still trying to determine the appropriate timing for a repeal vote. The issue could be rendered moot, depending on the results of a federal court challenge to the constitutionality of the state ban. A district judge has already granted temporary orders to two same-sex Ohio couples seeking to have their out-of-state marriages recognized by Ohio, but he has yet to issue a final ruling.
Oklahoma has had a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages and unions since 2004. A longstanding federal case, recently updated to reflect the Supreme Court’s July rulings, is pending before a district judge.
Oregon has had a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages since 2004, but has allowed domestic partnerships since 2008. A group of Oregonians are currently working to collecting 116,284 signatures by July 2014, which would allow a November 2014 repeal vote.
Pennsylvania has had a statutory ban on same-sex marriage since 1996. Last month, Montgomery County Registry of Wills Bruce Hanes began offering same-sex marriage licenses, after determining that the statute violates the state’s constitution. Gov. Tom Corbett’s (R) state health department filed suit, seeking a halt to the weddings. Last week, a commonwealth judge heard arguments on the move and vowed to rule quickly. A separate federal case was filed in July, claiming the state ban violated the U.S. constitution. Corbett has hired an expensive outside counsel to defend the statute. A legislative effort faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled legislature.
South Carolina has had a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages and unions since 2007. A Highway Patrol trooper and her partner. filed a federal court challenge in August, arguing that that state’s amendment violates the U.S. Constitution.
Utah has had a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages and unions since 2004. In March, a group of Utah families filed a federal suit arguing that the state’s amendment violates the U.S. Constitution.
Virginia has had a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages and unions since 2006. In August, a group of families filed a federal court challenge arguing that that state ban violates the U.S. Constitution.
If the efforts above prove successful, the number of states with marriage equality could jump from 13 to more than 30 in the next few years. Additionally, should the federal courts ultimately determine that state bans violate the federal constitution much like the Defense of Marriage Act did, marriage would become available in all 50 states.