Hundreds of same-sex couples married in New York on Sunday (July 24), the first day they could legally do so. And just as the Stonewall Riots in New York City in 1969 gave a lift to the nascent movement for equal rights for gays across the country, marriage equality in the Empire State appears to be giving a boost to marriage equality efforts outside its borders.
Activists in at least two states (Maine and Colorado) are pushing for 2012 ballot measures to seek marriage equality there, a lawsuit has been launched in New Jersey for full marriage rights, and in Maryland, a Democratic governor is prepared to follow the example of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) in leading the state legislature to marriage equality.
With the addition of New York, the percentage of same-sex couples living in states that allow them to marry has now more than doubled—from 6.9 percent to 14.3 percent, according to an analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey by the Williams Institute of UCLA.
And the percentage of the U.S. population living in a state that allows same-sex couples to marry has more than doubled, from 5.1 to 11.4 percent, according to Census 2010 and the Williams Institute.
“Having New York end marriage discrimination is a turning point for the country,” said Evan Wolfson, executive director of the national Freedom to Marry group, in an essay on the group’s Web site June 27, three days after New York Governor Cuomo signed a marriage equality bill into law. “The world watches New York, and, as New Yorkers say, if we can make it here, we’ll make it anywhere.”
Wolfson noted that passage of the bill in New York was the first time a legislative chamber with a Republican majority—the state Senate—had “voted to advance a bill to end marriage discrimination, and Republican senators provided the winning margin.” He called the bipartisan vote “a major shift in the national political calculus for both parties” that “points the way to more victories.”
The New York legislature was also the first to pass a marriage bill without first passing civil unions or domestic partnerships, Wolfson said.
In New Jersey, which allows same-sex couples to enter civil unions, but not marriages, Steven Goldstein, the chair of the LGBT advocacy organization Garden State Equality, said in a statement June 24 that “the victory in New York, and its choice of marriage equality over civil union inequality, set the stage for our continuing fight for marriage for same-sex couples in New York’s sister state just a mile away.”
Four days after the New York bill became law, Garden State Equality and Lambda Legal, a national LGBT legal group, filed a lawsuit in a New Jersey Superior Court in Trenton on behalf of seven same-sex couples. They argue that the state’s existing civil union laws do not provide the couples with full equality—an equality the state Supreme Court said, in October 2006, is guaranteed by the state constitution.
Garden State Equality also held a rally on July 24, the first day of the New York marriages, at a New Jersey park closest to New York, with a view of the Manhattan skyline across the Hudson River.
In Maryland, where a marriage equality bill passed the state House but failed to pass the Senate in March, Governor Martin O’Malley (D) seems now to be following the example of New York Governor Cuomo, saying he will take a more active role in pushing for marriage equality next session.
Cuomo, whom Freedom to Marry’s Wolfson called the “indispensable champion” of the New York bill, had worked closely with marriage equality advocates and sent the initial version of the marriage bill to the legislature. He then met with legislative leaders to work out a final version of the bill that addressed some lawmakers’ concerns about additional protections for religious groups and the charities and educational institutions they operate.
Maryland’s O’Malley announced July 22 that he would sponsor marriage equality legislation in the 2012 legislative session. He tasked his director of legislative affairs, Joseph Bryce, with coordinating efforts among a broad coalition of LGBT, civil rights, and faith-based groups, as well as people across the state.
O’Malley said at a press conference that the law provides equal protection and the free exercise of religion to all, adding “Other states have found a way to protect both of these fundamental beliefs.”
And in Maine, the executive director of Equality Maine, Betsy Smith, said in a statement June 28 that the “victory in New York generates wind in the sails of the national movement to win marriage, and more specifically, of our efforts here in Maine.”
EqualityMaine and Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) announced June 30 that they are taking steps to place a citizen’s initiative on the November 2012 ballot, asking Maine voters to approve a law giving same-sex couples the right to marry. The move comes after a referendum in November 2009 overturned a marriage equality law passed by the legislature and signed by Governor John Baldacci (D) in May 2009.
Colorado may also see a question on its 2012 ballot to approve marriage equality. The state Title Board on July 20 approved language for such a question. Supporters of marriage equality must now collect 86,105 signatures in order to place it on the ballot.
Similar measures could also appear in California and Oregon.
An exception to the trend comes in Minnesota, where the legislature has approved a ballot question that seeks to ban marriage of same-sex couples under the state constitution. It is already banned under state law. The same could happen in North Carolina, where the legislature is considering bills for such a ballot measure.
Cuomo, in a press conference after he signed the marriage equality bill, called New York “a beacon for social justice,” noting that the movements for equally for women, for protection of workers, for preservation of the environment, and for equality of gays each have roots in New York.
“New York,” he said, “made a powerful statement, not just for the people of New York, but the people all across this nation.”