Marriage: Maryland advances

Marriage equality in Maryland got a boost in the past week from two prominent politicians, but a winter storm delayed a marriage equality hearing in Rhode Island. Elsewhere, conditions were variable.

Marriage equality in Maryland got a boost in the past week from two prominent politicians, but a winter storm delayed a marriage equality hearing in Rhode Island. Elsewhere, conditions were variable.

Maryland: State Senator Allan Kittleman (R-Howard County) announced on February 2 that he supports a pending marriage equality bill. Kittleman had earlier said he would introduce a separate civil union bill. He then resigned as minority leader January 18, saying Republican colleagues did not want a “social moderate” as leader.

In a statement about his shift in support, Kittleman described himself as “a strong follower of Jesus Christ,” and added, “while my faith may teach that marriage is between a man and a woman, our government is not a theocracy. . . . Therefore, while my spiritual life is extremely important to me, it cannot be the sole basis for my decisions as a state senator.”

Kittleman also noted that his father, the late state Senator Robert Kittleman (R-Howard County), helped fight racial discrimination in the 1950s and 1960s, which “instilled in me the belief that everyone, regardless of race, sex, national origin or sexual orientation, is entitled to equal rights.”

A public hearing on the Senate bill is scheduled for February 8.

Maryland Lt. Governor Anthony Brown (D) also made his first public statement in support of the marriage bill.

Brown, a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, released a statement in December applauding the repeal of the federal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on openly gay servicemembers.

The marriage bill is expected to pass the legislature, and Governor Martin O’Malley (D) has said he will sign it. Brown told the Washington Blade, however, that he expects opponents will gather enough signatures for a voter referendum on the bill in 2012, but believes voters will uphold it.

A poll from Gonzales Research and Marketing released January 25 showed 51 percent of Maryland residents support full marriage equality, 44 percent oppose it, and 5 percent did not respond.

Iowa: The full Iowa House approved a bill February 1 to put a measure on the ballot asking voters whether to amend the state constitution to ban legal recognition for same-sex relationships. The 62 to 37 vote was largely partisan, with only three Democrats joining the united Republican majority in favor of the bill.

The vote came after a packed public hearing that included the testimony of nineteen-year-old Zach Wahls, a University of Iowa student raised by two mothers. His speech has become an Internet sensation, receiving over a million viewings on YouTube.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs) had said he would block a vote on the bill in his chamber, where Democrats have a 26-24 edge.

California: State Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye told the Los Angeles Times Feburary 2 that the state’s high court may decide “as soon as next week” whether it will take up a request from the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals asking if any state law or authority justifies giving Yes on 8 proponents of Proposition 8, the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, standing to appeal the case in federal court.

Colorado: Openly gay State Senator Pat Steadman (D-Denver) said on his Facebook page February 3 that he would be introducing a civil union bill “early next week.” State Rep. Mark Ferrandino (D-Denver), who is also gay, will introduce the House version.

In 2006, Colorado voters approved a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and rejected a bill for domestic partnerships. Since 2009, however, unmarried couples have been able to obtain a designated beneficiary agreement that gives them limited rights over each other’s medical, financial, and end-of-life matters.

Colorado was the setting for Romer v. Evans, the landmark 1996 LGBT civil rights case in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the state’s Amendment 2, which prohibited ordinances protecting people based on sexual orientation.

New Hampshire: The House Judiciary Committee announced it will hold a public hearing February 17 on two bills that seek to repeal the state’s one-year-old marriage equality law. One bill, introduced by State Rep. David Bates (R-Windham), would ban only marriage for same-sex couples; the other, introduced by State Rep. Leo Pepino (R-Manchester), would also prohibit civil unions.

New York: Barbara Bush, daughter of former President George W. Bush, taped a video expressing her support for marriage equality and calling on New Yorkers to join her. And a Quinnipiac University poll released January 27 found that New York State voters support marriage equality legislation by 56 to 37 percent, the highest margin ever for that poll. A Siena poll released January 18 showed similar numbers.

Rhode Island: A House hearing on State Rep. Arthur Handy’s (D-Cranston) bill to enact marriage equality was postponed until February 9 because of a winter storm. State Senator Rhoda Perry (D-Providence) has introduced a similar bill in the Senate.

But three other bills—also filed by Democrats—would put a measure on the ballot in 2012 asking voters if they would like to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. State Rep. Jon Brien (D-Woonsocket) and Senator John Tassoni Jr. (D-Smithfield) on February 3 filed identical bills to do so. Senator Frank Ciccone (D-Providence) filed a slightly different one February 27, which would leave open the option of civil unions for same-sex couples.

Democrats hold large majorities in both chambers, and House Speaker Gordon Fox (D-Providence), who is openly gay, is a cosponsor of Handy’s bill. Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, however, opposes marriage equality.

Utah: State Rep. LaVar Christensen (R-Draper), who introduced the 2004 bill (now law) that bans same-sex marriage under the state constitution, filed two bills February 2 that could further limit rights for same-sex couples.

One would require that “publicly funded social programs, government services, laws, and regulations designed to support families be carefully scrutinized to ensure that they promote the family.” The bill defines “family” as “the legal union” of a man, a woman, and their children, “consistent with the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.”

Christensen’s second bill—nearly identical to one that narrowly failed in 2006—states, “An arrangement, agreement or transaction that is unlawful or violates public policy is void and unenforceable.”

Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah, told the Salt Lake Tribune that among other implications, the two laws taken together could invalidate contracts between members of same-sex couples, such as medical directives and wills.

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