The momentum for allowing gay couples to obtain marriage licenses surged dramatically again this week with two more state legislatures passing bills to provide for such equality, one of those governors immediately signing the bill, and the District of Columbia clearing its Marriage Recognition bill.
But the gains are almost certainly leading to a referendum in at least one of those two states—in Maine—and a showdown in Congress this year.
On May 6, the legislatures in Maine and New Hampshire finished their voting on same-sex marriage bills and sent them to their respective Democratic governors. And, in Washington, D.C., the City Council May 5 took its final vote to approve the legal recognition in D.C. of marriage licenses that same-sex couples have obtained legally elsewhere. Opponents in Maine have vowed a referendum and in D.C. have vowed a fight in Congress.
Now, in Congress and New Hampshire, some waiting begins.
New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch has opposed same-sex marriages but no position, yet, on a bill to establish equal rights to marriage for gay couples. And a spokesperson said Wednesday afternoon that the governor has still given no indication of what he plans to do when the bill reaches his desk.
But Rep. Jim Splaine, a key proponent of the bill, does not expect a veto and thinks the governor could let the measure into law without his signature.
Congress is both volatile and unpredictable. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., issued a statement May 5 saying Congress "should not interfere" with the D.C. Council's governance. But because D.C. is a federal district—not a state—Congress has authority to review any of its legislation. And it has frequently used that authority to overturn pro-gay measures, including when Congress has been dominated by Democrats, as it is now.
Tears and laughter
But in Maine, Gov. John Baldacci surprised many by stepping out on the afternoon of May 6 and holding a press conference to sign the same-sex marriage bill.
Baldacci said he did not come to the decision "lightly or in haste" and noted that, while he had opposed same-sex marriage in the past, "I have come to believe that this is a question of fairness and of equal protection under the law." He also acknowledged the likelihood opponents will call for a referendum.
In the Maine House of Representatives, the discussion May 5 over the bill to legalize same-sex marriage was by far one of the most emotional debates among all that have taken place in state legislatures considering same-sex marriage bills—but not because the House was deeply divided.
Many representatives described personal transformations on the issue, explaining how they had come to see equal marriage rights as "the right thing to do."
Rep. Wendy Pieh, D-Bremen, who was one of only 39 representatives to oppose a state Defense of Marriage Act in 1997, noted that " [ a ] lot has happened in 12 years."
"It's a different day today," said Pieh. "We've moved forward. Our culture has changed. And I'm very proud to be supporting this majority report" for the same-sex marriage bill.
Rep. Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, pictured
called marriage equality the "civil rights issue of our time."
"We look over our shoulders now and wonder how we ever discriminated against women or because of race or religion," said Eves. "Someday soon, we will look again over our shoulders and wonder how we could have remained silent for so long" on marriage equality.
N.H. and D.C. on the brink
Gay-rights supporters in New Hampshire are optimistic their Democratic governor, John Lynch, will "do the right thing," too.
The House voted 178-167 May 6 to concur with a Senate version of its same-sex marriage bill. One representative then asked for reconsideration of that vote, but on a 161-185 roll call, that request failed.
Several members then sought to file "petitions of protest" with the Speaker, who accepted them and said only that they would be "noted in the journal."
After several procedural activities, the bill will now go to Gov. John Lynch. The governor's press secretary, Colin Manning, said May 6 the governor has given no indication of his intentions.
Perhaps the roughest waters stirring this week were in Washington, D.C.—the federal district whose self-governing measures are all subject to approval by the U.S. Congress. The D.C. Council voted 12-1 May 5 for its second and final vote on a bill that will give legal recognition to marriage licenses obtained legally by same-sex couples in other states and jurisdictions. Democratic Mayor Adrian Fenty has made he clear he will sign the legislation; then, the measure goes through a 30-day review period by Congress.
© 2009 Keen News Service
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