Filed under: Civil Unions
By Scottie Thomaston
The people of the state of Virginia are now joining the ranks of those who support marriage equality (most recently, majority support was found in Michigan, and in Nevada in February.) The recent polls seem to match the overall trend reported by Pew Research and Gallup: Americans in all age groups increasingly support same-sex marriage.
Metro Weekly has the report on the Washington Post‘s Virginia poll:
A Washington Post poll of Virginians regarding various social issues shows that a majority of Virginians believe same-sex marriage should be legal, a finding that challenges other polls in recent years showing that marriage equality still lacks broad support across the commonwealth.
According to the Post poll, 56 percent of Virginia adults believe it should be legal for gay and lesbian couples to get married, while 34 percent think it should be illegal. Ten percent expressed no opinion. Among registered voters, those who thought it should be legal led by a similar margin, 56 to 33 percent.
The poll was conducted by telephone from April 29 to May 2 among a random sample of 1,000 adults in Virginia, including 887 registered voters and users of both conventional and cellular phones. Among registered voters, the poll has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.
According to the poll results, independents and Democrats are showing majority support (which is the same in most recent polls on the issue) but Republicans are not. Women and non-whites support marriage equality more strongly than men and whites. And 72 per cent of 18-29 year olds in the state support marriage equality, but only 22 per cent in that age group are in the opposition.
Metro Weekly interviewed the executive director of Equality Virginia about the poll:
In an interview with Metro Weekly, James Parrish, the executive director of the nonpartisan LGBT rights organization Equality Virginia called the results of the Post poll “exciting to see.”
“It’s definitely nice to see, but it’s something we expected,” Parrish said. “Support in Virginia mirrors what’s going on nationally. Hopefully, this will set Virginia up to be able to remove the marriage amendment and allow same-sex couples to marry in the state.”
Parrish noted that the strongest movement in support for LGBT rights has occurred among Republicans. He said that polling by Equality Virginia has also seen that shift among Republicans in its own polling, which explains why a bill supporting workplace nondiscrimination protections in state employment garnered stronger-than-usal support from Republicans this past legislative session. That measure passed the state Senate 24-16 before being killed in committee by members of the House of Delegates.
The Advocate also notes, via a Talking Points Memo report, that Arizona voters (who banned same-sex marriage by voter initiative in 2008) now support marriage equality by a fairly strong margin:
Even Arizona, where the legislature is currently considering a bill that would forbid transgender people from using the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity, is feeling the push toward marriage equality. Although Arizona voters overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in 2008, 55% of voters now favor marriage equality, according to a Rocky Mountain Poll released Wednesday and published at TalkingPointsMemo. Opposition to the freedom to marry among registered voters is just 35%, according to the poll. Support for marriage equality was high among women, Latinos, and voters under the age of 55. But even among voters older than 54, 46% support marriage equality, while 40% of the demographic is opposed.
TPM notes that support in the state transcends race, gender, and age:
Large majorities of women, Hispanics and voters under the age of 55 support same-sex nuptials. A plurality of voters over the age of 54 — 46 percent — supports gay marriage, while 40 percent of the group is opposed.
All of these states have LGBT-related lawsuits pending in federal court: Michigan’s anti-gay amendment is being challenged in federal court, while a case involving gay rights in Arizona is pending before the Supreme Court: Brewer v. Diaz involves an attempt by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer to rescind domestic partnership benefits from same-sex state employees; she asked the Court to allow her to continue denying the benefits while the case is pending in the lower courts. No action has been taken in either case, and since the Court will decide cases involving Prop 8 and DOMA, no action is expected until June at the earliest.
In Virginia, the state’s attorney general has appealed a decision striking down the “crimes against nature” (sodomy) law as unconstitutional under 2003′s Lawrence v. Texas. The full appeals court declined to rehear the case.
In these states, it seems unlikely at best that marriage equality will be legalized without court action. Although voters are changing their minds, many of the state officials are socially conservative. But these lawsuits will probably proceed after the Supreme Court rules next month.
Earlier this week, Mark Cohen, a Democratic Pennsylvania state legislator from Philadelphia, introduced a bill that would allow same-sex couples in the state to enter into civil unions. Cohen’s bill, HB1178, contains language that “would amend Title 23 (Domestic Relations) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, in marriage, adding a definition; and providing for civil unions.”
Cohen’s legislation has the support of 27 other members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. The chamber has 203 members, with Republicans holding the advantage with 109 seats to Democrats’ 93. HB1178 has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, which has 15 Republican members and 10 Democratic members, and will likely face an uphill climb in the House as well as the state Senate, where Republicans hold a 27-23 majority.
In a press release issued Wednesday, according to Philadelphia Magazine, Cohen called civil unions a “middle-of-the-road compromise position between constitutionally banning and permitting gay marriages,” implicitly acknowledging that equal marriage legislation would have no hope in the Pennsylvania legislature. In the release, Cohen explained that his bill would create civil unions that afforded the full rights (but, of course, not the designation) of marriage to same-sex couples. The legislation would also establish reciprocity under state law for same-sex couples to have any marriage or civil union license from another state recognized as a civil union in Pennsylvania.
In Minnesota, meanwhile, Republicans have continued to push for civil unions as an alternative to a proposed marriage equality bill that was approved in mid-March by committees in the both the state House and Senate and is now pending full floor votes in both chambers. An initial piece of legislation introduced in early April would have provided same-sex couples with civil unions but not full marriage rights; a new bill introduced this week would effectively end civil marriage in the state, providing all couples with civil unions regardless of sexual orientation and leaving the term ‘marriage’ for religious ceremonies.
One Democratic representative, Kim Norton, who had originally backed the first civil unions bill but later withdrew her support, told KAAL-TV she would be backing the new legislation. ”It makes certain that every Minnesotan couple gets a civil union in the state of Minnesota and that marriages are left to the churches that are offering them,” Rep. Norton told the station. ”Some people have got[t]en hurt by my decision to sign this on, but as I think I’ve shared with you before, I have not found a majority of folks in my community with one opinion.”
It’s safe to say that any bill which essentially abolished the institution of civil marriage would pose significant problems of public policy–not to mention the fact that such a bill could very well be unconstitutional. Consider, for example, the issue of federal benefits, for which married couples are eligible but couples in civil unions are not. Would Minnesota’s proposed law prohibit any of its residents from accessing these benefits? The bill would also pose significant problems for married couples who moved to Minnesota, whose marriages would theoretically be converted into civil unions. In short, the situation would lay fertile ground for an equal protection challenge.
As this week’s developments in Pennsylvania and Minnesota demonstrate, civil unions are still seen by lawmakers as a useful tool. In Pennsylvania, the utility of civil unions manifests as a pro-LGBT representative seeing them as a more feasible political lift in a Republican-dominated legislature. In Minnesota, it takes the form of anti-LGBT lawmakers using civil unions to siphon support away from legislation that would provide full marriage equality.
But while some lawmakers may see civil unions as a safe alternative to equal marriage rights–or even a bulwark against their implementation–the people may increasingly be of a different mindset. In a new poll published this week, Public Policy Polling found that 50 percent of Colorado voters support the civil unions bill that was approved in March, with only 38 percent of voters opposing it. Surprisingly, PPP’s poll found that voters in the state actually were more supportive of marriage equality than civil unions, albeit not by much: 51 percent were in favor of equal marriage rights and 43 percent were opposed. As is always the case when viewed through the lens of generational divides, voters who were younger than 30 supported marriage equality by a margin of 74-17 percent.
This probably means full marriage equality isn’t too far away in Colorado, which would mirror other states (such as Illinois, Hawaii, Rhode Island and Delaware) that have seen pushes for equal marriage rights just a few years after legalizing civil unions. As opponents of marriage equality begin to see civil unions as the last line of defense against marriage equality, they may well find that voters have very little appetite for any ‘middle-of-the-road’ legal status that effectively creates a separate but equal regime.
Update (3:40 p.m. Eastern): Thanks to Seth from Maryland for pointing this out in the comments: A new Survey USA poll finds 51 percent of Minnesota voters support marriage equality, with 47 percent opposed.
By Scottie Thomaston
At EqualityOnTrial, we recently covered the Arizona town of Bisbee’s decision to offer civil unions for its residents who are in same-sex relationships. At the time, the state’s attorney general, Tom Horne, said that the law is unconstitutional. He pledged to file a lawsuit against its enforcement, while conservative Christian groups in the state said that the new law is an end-run around the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. According to initial reports, however, the law would only apply to benefits the city itself actually had control over.
On Saturday, the Bisbee City Council put the new civil unions law on hold, until it can undergo a review and some changes that would ensure it doesn’t violate the state’s marriage equality ban. According to reports, the language they are excising from the law addresses “community property, inheritances, appointment of guardians and disposition of remains after death,” which they say were the provisions that angered socially conservative Arizonans and the state’s attorney general.
But the attorney general’s office hinted that they may drop the lawsuit if these changes are made:
A spokeswoman for Horne said the decision likely means a lawsuit expected to be filed next week won’t be necessary.
“If they tweak it, to where the ordinance breaks no state laws, we will have no reason to sue,” spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said.
The Attorney General said the ordinance violated parts of a 2008 voter approved state constitutional ban on same-sex marriages.
His office suggested that their concern is that people who enter into civil unions in Bisbee might think they are entitled to certain benefits from the state, but the new law would not reach beyond the city limits.
The lawsuit attacking the law was expected to be filed this week.