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Next Steps After Australian Setback

By Matt Baume

We have a major setback this week in Australia, but there’s still a glimmer of hope. Marriage equality hearings are coming up in two unlikely states: Arkansas and Texas. An Oregon ballot measure passes a major hurdle, and organizers launch a new public outreach campaign on the east coast.

Well, it’s not the news we wanted. An Australian court has ruled that individual territories cannot enact marriage equality legislation. That ruling effectively nullifies the over two dozen marriages that happened in the Australian Capitol Territory last week.

But the good news is that the High Court of Australia also laid out a roadmap for enacting full federal marriage equality. According to the court, Parliament has the authority to allow gay couples to wed. That means that organizers can now put pressure on federal officials to bring marriage equality to a vote.

Meanwhile, England has set an official date for the start of marriage equality. Weddings in England and Wales can begin on March 29. So you’ve got about three months to plan your big British wedding.

Here in the states, the number of marriage equality lawsuits awaiting a decision continues to grow. Last week a judge in Arkansas held a hearing to determine whether he should dismiss a suit against the state’s marriage ban. Couples have also requested an injunction that would allow them to marry out-of-state to obtain recognition in Arkansas. There’s no timeline for a ruling there. It could come any day, or we could have a wait of several months.

A court in Texas has agreed to hear a suit against that state’s marriage ban. The hearing’s scheduled for February, so 2014 is already shaping up to be a very busy year for marriage.

Much of next year’s attention is likely to go to Oregon, where a repeal of the state’s marriage ban will go to voters. Last week, organizers announced that they’d gathered the required number of signatures to place the repeal on the ballot. Polling in Oregon is generally favorable, with a steady increase in support over the last few years. The most recent Public Policy Polling numbers are a year old, and show 54% support marriage equality to 40% opposed.

And finally this week, Pennsylvania has kicked off an education campaign to grow public support for marriage. The state has multiple lawsuits awaiting a ruling, so Freedom to Marry and the ACLU are capitalizing on the attention with a “Why Marriage Matters” campaign. Polling in Pennsylvania is not great. A Public Policy Polling Survey from May showed 45% support to 47% opposed. The next major legal milestone is a trial starting on June 9, so there’s lots of time to shift public opinion between now and then.

8 Comments December 17, 2013

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

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