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Australian Marriage Just Got Complicated

By Matt Baume

As of this weekend, marriage equality has suddenly come to Australia — but there’s a catch. In fact, there are a lot of catches. Courts in Hawaii, Pennsylvania, and Utah could all be the first to rule on marriage in a post-DOMA world. And an equality lawsuit in Louisiana got knocked down, but not out.

The first week of marriage equality has gone pretty smoothly. A few dozen couples married on the first day, and there’s been a steady stream of weddings since then. The University of Hawaii estimates that marriage will bring in $217 million over the next three years.

But State Rep Bob McDermott’s lawsuit to end the marriages continues to be a concern. He’ll have a hearing in mid-January.

Meanwhile, there are some questions over another lawsuit, Jackson v. Abercrombie. That suit was filed months ago by equality organizers seeking to force the state to legalize marriage. Now that it’s actually happened, the court has asked the plaintiffs to either end the suit or prove why it should continue.

It’s unclear how the two lawsuits might affect each other, if at all. If McDermott is successful in stopping marriage equality, Jackson v. Abercrombie could be an effective means to re-instating it.

You might remember several months ago when a clerk in Pennsylvania started issuing marriage licenses. The state eventually ordered the clerk, D. Bruce Hanes, to stop after he issued nearly 200. Now he’s appealed to the state Supreme Court in an attempt to resume issuing those licenses. There’s no timeline for a ruling there, but a decision could be coming quite soon.

Or we might first get a ruling a Utah. A judge there heard arguments in a federal suit against that state’s marriage ban. As usual, lawyers defending the ban claimed that it would promote heterosexual procreation, but couldn’t explain how. The judge expects to rule sometime in January.

A lawsuit in Louisiana hit a snag last week. A judge there dismissed a challenge to the marriage ban on a technicality, ruling that the couples couldn’t sue the state Attorney General. They plan to amend the ruling with a new defendant this week.

And finally this week, marriage equality is suddenly legal in Australia — but just in one small part, and possibly for just a few days. The Australian Capital Territory passed a marriage equality bill several weeks ago. It’s been challenged in court, but it’ll go into effect this weekend before the court can issue a ruling. So for at least the next few days, Australian couples will be able to marry, as long as they registered a month in advance.

4 Comments December 10, 2013

Marriage Could Start Sooner than Expected

By Matt Baume

It’s been a busy week, with marriage bills just days away from becoming laws in Illinois and Hawaii. By the end of 2013, the percentage of the population living in states that have passed marriage bills will have doubled in just one year. So, what’s next? Believe it or not, Kentucky, Arkansas, South Carolina, and Montana have all shown signs of progress this week.

Last week the Illinois House passed the marriage bill by a 61 to 54 vote. And now Governor Pat Quinn has set a date: he’ll sign it into law on November 20th. Currently, marriage is slated to start in Illinois on June first, 2014.

But State Senator Don Harmon has filed an amendment to an unrelated bill that could push up the date to as early as February. The legislature won’t have an opportunity to vote on his proposal until February 4th, so we’ll need to check back in then.

And a marriage bill also passed the House and Senate in Hawaii last week. It’s not a done deal yet: legislators will need to vote again on some amended language. But it’s unlikely that the bill will get hung up on those re-votes, and could head to the Governor’s desk later this week.

But even then, some hurdles may remain. Opponents of marriage equality have vowed to file a court challenge in Hawaii. They claim that a 1998 constitutional amendment only allows the legislature to prohibit marriage equality, not enact it. We’ll be keeping a close eye on the situation there.

And there have been significant developments in several other states. The New Mexico Supreme Court is still mulling a lawsuit over marriage equality. But in the mean time, the state’s insurance regulator has ordered companies to provide married gay and lesbian couples with the same benefits provided to straight couples.

A lesbian couple in Kentucky has sued the state after its marriage ban prevented them from obtaining a divorce. Arkansas has approved wording for a ballot measure to overturn the state’s marriage ban, which could go before voters in 2016 at the earliest. Nebraska legislators held a hearing on relationship recognition, with state Senator Ernie Chambers pledging to introduce a civil unions bill in 2014.

A South Carolina survey shows support for marriage equality is still low, but rising very quickly. And a Montana survey shows support exceeding opposition for the first time.

And finally, last week marked the one-year anniversary of marriage equality in Maine. At that time, there were about 50 million Americans living in states with marriage equality. With the addition of several states since then, including Hawaii and Illinois, that number is over 113 million.

13 Comments November 11, 2013

Two More States May Win Marriage This Week

By Matt Baume

We’re closer than ever to marriage in Hawaii, but time is running out for a marriage bill in Illinois. A Pennsylvania widow sues over the state’s refusal to recognize her marriage, Missouri rejects survivor benefits for the spouses of gay and lesbian police officers, and there’s legal progress in Texas, Virginia, Ohio, and Colorado.

AFER’s federal marriage case in Virginia is now fully briefed. That means we’re just awaiting a date for a hearing to determine when the case will move forward.

The Hawaii Senate has overwhelmingly approved a marriage bill, but some hurdles remain. Now it moves to the House, but before legislators can vote, they must hear public comment. That process lasted for hours late last week, with thousands of people signing up to speak. We don’t yet know when the House will finally vote.

If the bill passes, marriages could start before Thanksgiving.

Time’s running out for a marriage bill in Illinois, with the special session ending this week. The vote there is still too close to call. Some lawmakers still haven’t revealed how they plan to vote, if they get the opportunity. If the bill doesn’t come up in the special session, its next chance won’t come until 2014. If you live in Illinois, or know anyone who does, now is a crucial time to get involved. Visit Equality Illinois at EQIL.org to find out how you can help.

We have a series of new lawsuits across the country. A Pennsylvania woman sued the state last week over a tax bill she received after her wife passed away. Although the women were legally married in Connecticut, Pennsylvania wants to tax the survivor’s inheritance as though they were strangers.

In addition to that suit, two Texas couples filed a suit against that state last week over its marriage ban. And there’s also a brand new lawsuit in Colorado.

Meanwhile, litigation continues in Virginia and Ohio, where courts held procedural hearings last week. Missouri’s Supreme Court ruled that the state doesn’t have to pay survivor benefits to gay and lesbian spouses of public employees killed in the line of duty. And a new survey in Wisconsin shows a surge in public support: Fifty three percent, up nine points from just one year ago.

Leave a Comment November 4, 2013

Marriage Delayed in NJ

By Matt Baume

Anti-gay politicians are pushing back against recent high-profile victories for equality, but they’re just delaying the inevitable. Lawsuits progress in some more conservative states. Plus we have even more good news in state and national surveys.

Work continues on AFER’s newest case: a federal lawsuit challenging Virginia’s marriage ban. Following our announcement last week, we released a brand new behind-the-scenes look at the plaintiffs and legal team. Head over to AFER’s YouTube channel to get a backstage look at how AFER broke the news at an event in Washington DC.

A judge in New Jersey ruled two weeks ago that the state must provide equal marriage to gay and lesbian couples. But Governor Chris Christie, after vetoing a marriage equality bill last year, has now announced plans to appeal the latest ruling.

Marriage equality is scheduled to start in New Jersey on October 21, but Christie asked the court to delay that start date.

Meanwhile, lawmakers have until just January to come up with enough votes to override Christie’s veto of the marriage bill.

Officials are resisting calls for equality in Kentucky as well. A gay couple sued the state over its marriage ban, but last week Attorney General Clay Barkley asked a judge to dismiss the suit.

Lawmakers in Pennsylvania have introduced a marriage equality bill. Lambda Legal has filed a new lawsuit in West Virginia. Couples in North Carolina are continuing their hunt for a county clerk who will help challenge that state’s marriage ban.

And we have a couple of new surveys this week. In New Mexico, support is just reaching a majority, with 51 percent to 42 percent opposed. Support in Nevada is climbing steadily, with 57 percent supporting repeal of the state’s marriage ban to 36 percent opposed.

And a new national survey shows a continuing trend in favor of equality, with 55 percent support to 36 percent opposed. It’s been three and a half years since our opponents polled over 50 percent.

Leave a Comment October 7, 2013

Michigan Supreme Court leaves same-sex partner benefits intact

By Jacob CombsMichigan state seal

Same-sex domestic partners of Michigan state employees will continue to receive health benefits after the Michigan Supreme Court decided not to take up an appeal on the issue, the AP reported yesterday morning.  In a unanimous order from Wednesday that was released yesterday, the court expressed skepticism that it should hear the case.

In 2011, Michigan’s Civil Service Commission voted against Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s wishes and mandated that state health insurance plans must cover non-family members who have lived for more than a year with a state employee.  Attorney General Bill Schuette challenged the move in court.

An Ingham County judge ruled that the commission’s decision did not conflict with Michigan State Proposal — 04-2, a voter-approved constitutional amendment from 2004 that outlawed marriage equality and civil unions in the state.  A divided appeals court issued a decision in January that said the courts were in no place to second-guess whether the state had acted correctly or not.  After this week’s Supreme Court ruling, that decision will stand as final.

Michigan has some of the most stringent laws in the country against legal recognition of same-sex couples’ unions.  In 2008, the state Supreme Court ruled that public universities in the state could not offer domestic partnership benefits to same-sex couples.  As the AP noted in its piece, because of that ruling and the 2004 amendment, many public employers in the state have transitioned to offering benefits for “other eligible individuals” in employees’ households, a classification that could include–but does not specifically reference–gay partners.

In 2011, Gov. Snyder signed a law that prohibited health benefits for domestic partners of public employees, although the provision did not apply to public universities.  That law has been challenged in court.  Another LGBT rights lawsuit, DeBoer v. Snyder, is currently pending in a federal district court in Michigan.  In that case, Judge Bernard Friedman invited the plaintiffs to amend their complaint–which had originally focused only on adoption rights–to challenge Michigan’s marriage equality ban.  In March, Judge Friedman placed the case on hold until a final decision by the Supreme Court in the Prop 8 case and the Windsor challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act.

Leave a Comment May 3, 2013

Quinnipiac poll shows majority support for marriage equality

Quinnipiac University

By Jacob Combs

For the first time, a Quinnipiac public opinion poll shows majority support for marriage equality among Americans, with 50 percent in support and 41 percent opposed to equal marriage rights.  Nine percent of respondents took neither position on the issue.

As in virtually every other poll to examine the issue, the Quinnipiac poll found support varied amongst different demographic groups as might be expected.  Two-thirds of Republicans said they oppose marriage equality (66 percent to 24 percent), while more than two-thirds of Democrats support it (69 percent to 24 percent).  A majority of independent voters (52 percent) favored equal marriage rights, with 39 percent opposed.

Women were markedly more supportive of marriage equality (52 percent to 40 percent) than men were (47 percent to 43 percent).  Whites and Hispanics showed identical margins of support (51 percent to 41 percent), while black respondents were opposed 48 percent to 43 percent.  In general, support was higher amongst respondents who were college-educated and who were wealthier, although both non-college-educated respondents and all income groups were more supportive of marriage equality than opposed to it.  Respondents who had a gay family member or friend supported equal marriage rights by a 57 to 34 percent margin.

Among religious groups, a majority of Catholics supports marriage equality (55 percent to 38 percent), while the numbers for Protestants were essentially flipped (55 percent opposed to 36 percent in favor).  In one remarkable data point, the Quinnipiac survey found that while white born-again evangelicals who were college-educated opposed marriage equality 70 percent to 24 percent, white born-again evangelicals without a college degree supported equal marriage rights 54 percent to 37 percent.

Perhaps most intriguingly, Quinnipiac asked in its survey whether “each state should make its own law on whether same-sex marriage is legal or illegal” or whether the issue “should be decided for all states on the basis of the U.S. Constitution.”  By a 56 to 36 percent margin, respondents favored a Constitution-based policy rather than one that allowed each state to make its own determination.  (In fact, every demographic group except Republicans favored marriage equality based on the Constitution, and Republicans were only split 49 percent to 45 percent.)

Americans’ preference (at least according to Quinnipiac) for a constitutional determination of marriage equality could very well be influenced in part by last week’s Supreme Court hearings on Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, in which both laws were subject to consideration in light of the U.S. Constitution.  During oral arguments in the Prop 8 case, nearly all of the Justices seemed to favor a decision with national implications: the liberals were skeptical of a California-only ruling (or the so-called ‘eight state’ solution for the states with civil unions) as opposed to a broad decision for nationwide marriage equality, while the conservatives favored a ruling that all states could decide for themselves whether same-sex couples could be allowed to marry.

The Supreme Court is often loathe to get ahead of public opinion.  On this issue, however, the American public’s feelings seem clear–not only in favor of marriage equality, but also in favor of a court-sactioned right to equal marriage rights for LGBT Americans in all 50 states.

6 Comments April 5, 2013

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