A Superior Court judge approved San Francisco’s request to have its lawsuit challenging California’s marriage laws go forward while the state Supreme Court considers a pair of related cases. Judge James Warren also agreed to combine San Francisco’s suit against the state with a separate claim brought by gay civil rights groups on behalf of gay and lesbian couples who missed the chance to tie the knot. Attorney General Bill Lockyer had asked the judge to delay those cases while the Supreme Court is considering two others arguing that what the mayor did was illegal.
Voters will decide in Nov. whether to amend the state constitution to ban marriage for same-sex couples, even if the marriages are performed in other states. The Georgia House approved the ban 122-52. The amendment was narrowly defeated by the Democratic House in February after passing the Republican-controlled Senate earlier this year. Last time, nearly all black lawmakers opposed the amendment, comparing the gay rights debate to the civil rights struggle. But after heavy lobbying from black clergymen and conservatives, several of those opponents voted yes, giving the amendment the needed two-thirds majority.
The State Senate March 25 rejected an amendment to the state constitution that would have denied marriage to same-sex couples. The law would have also banned civil unions and domestic partnerships. It was defeated in a bipartisan 17-16 vote.
Though a Republican lawmaker tried to revive a proposed constitutional amendment to ban marriage for same-sex couples minutes before the midnight deadline on March 29, House Speaker Jody Richards would not allow a last-minute vote. The proposed amendment could still be considered when the legislature meets April 12-13 to take up any gubernatorial vetoes.
Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly said a 91-year-old state law prevents the state from issuing marriage licenses to couples whose marriage would be illegal in their home state, an interpretation that could block gay couples from 38 states with Defense of Marriage Acts from marrying there. Currently, state municipal clerks require couples seeking a marriage license to sign affidavits that their impending nuptials would be legal in their home jurisdiction.
In light of the Legislature approving a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would ban marriage for same-sex couples but legalize civil unions, Gov. Mitt Romney called on Reilly to ask the Supreme Judicial Court for a stay on issuing licenses to same-sex couples until after citizens get a chance to vote on the amendment, in November 2006 at the earliest. Reilly declined. Romney has now dropped his push for the courts to block marriages for same-sex couples and said he would stop pressuring the attorney general. The governor has said he would not order town clerks to defy the court.
Meanwhile, several lawmakers are seeking ways to avoid the legalization of marriage for same-sex couples in May. Republican Rep. Paul Loscocco, said he was preparing a bill that would abolish the state’s civil marriage law, replacing it with civil unions for both gay and straight couples. Under his bill, which could potentially take effect before May 17, marriage would become solely a religious institution.
A proposed amendment to the Missouri Constitution stating that marriage exists only between one man and one woman won initial House approval. House members added language during debate March 31 to make clear that Missouri would not recognize any same-sex relationship “that is treated as a marriage” somewhere else, nor any rights or claims arising from such a marriage. Sponsors said the language was not aimed at civil unions, although some members said it would affect such arrangements. The Senate has already approved a simpler, one-sentence version of the proposed constitutional amendment. The House version is expected to be sent to the Senate soon. The amendment would need final approval by Missouri voters.
The Montana Family Foundation has announced it will launch an initiative to amend the Montana Constitution this year to prohibit marriages for same-sex couples. The year-old organization plans to collect the necessary 41,020 voter signatures to get on the November ballot.
The state Supreme Court has extended an order halting Sandoval County Clerk Victoria Dunlap’s plan to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but her lawyer said the licenses could resume as soon as a judge can be found. The court unanimously ruled March 31 that the temporary restraining order would remain in effect until a state district court could rule on the merits of the case. Dunlap issued 66 marriage licenses to same-sex couples Feb. 20 and was about to issue more March 23 until the restraining order.
The Sandoval County Republican Party has since publicly stated they want nothing to do with Dunlap.
City officials declined marriage licenses to two same-sex couples March 31, setting up another legal challenge to New York’s marriage laws. At least two civil lawsuits have been filed this month contending marriages for same-sex couples are legal under New York’s constitution.
Meanwhile, hundreds of counter-protesters gathered April 3 to rebut a small group from the Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas that traveled to New York to demonstrate against gay marriage. It was the third protest in two days by the group, which is led by anti-gay crusader Fred Phelps, and the third time the group was greatly outnumbered. Protests and counter-protests were held in New Paltz, where the mayor has tried to certify marriages for same-sex couples, and during a Nyack church’s service for gays and lesbians.
Mike Nelson, the openly gay mayor of Carrboro, wants the town to go on record supporting marriage for same-sex couples. Nelson will submit a petition to aldermen calling on the Legislature to repeal portions of the Defense of Marriage Act. Nelson has proposed changes that would allow North Carolina municipalities to recognize legal marriages of same-sex couples performed outside the state and afford those couples the same employment benefits as other married couples. The Chapel Hill Town Council discussed a similar proposal two weeks ago after receiving a petition from council member Mark Kleinschmidt, who has been in a relationship with Nelson for several years.
Multnomah County Commission voted to reaffirm the county’s practice of issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The 4-1 vote came after more than 200 witnesses had their say in four sessions of testimony. The public forums and vote arose after the commissioners received harsh criticism for changing marriage laws without public say.
Benton County Commission Chairwoman Linda Modrell is facing an organized recall effort, on the heels of her vote to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. Benton County had planned to begin issuing the licenses to gay couples last week, but changed plans after the threat of legal action from the state attorney general’s office. Instead, the county is now issuing no marriage licenses at all, to gay or straight couples.
Oregon Republicans voted April 3 to back a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman and said the matter should go on the November ballot.
Debate over competing marriage bills led Providence Democrat Gordon Fox, the House majority leader, to come out publicly as gay. Bills have been offered in Rhode Island to allow marriages for same-sex couples and to define marriage as between a man and woman and make gay marriages approved in other states illegal.
The House Judiciary Committee on March 31 heard four bills dealing with same-sex marriage and benefits for domestic partners. No votes were taken on any of the bills.
A bill to prevent Tennessee from giving legal recognition to same-sex civil unions passed 27-2 March 31 in the state Senate one week after a House subcommittee voted the measure down. The sponsor of the bill in that chamber declared it dead for the year, but supporters of the bill said there are ways around the subcommittee’s vote, saying “this bill is not dead anywhere.”
Meanwhile, four gay couples seeking marriage licenses from the Knox County Clerk’s Office were turned down. County Clerk Mike Padgett said that he believed that this was the first attempt in Tennessee by same-sex couples to get a marriage license.
On behalf of 11 same-sex couples, the ACLU has sued the state of Washington to challenge laws that deny marriage rights to gays. The state’s 1998 Defense of Marriage Act violates the state and federal constitutions that guarantee equal protection under the law, the ACLU contends. Attorney General Christine Gregoire said her office will defend state law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
Another lawsuit was filed last month by six same-sex couples in King County, challenging that county’s ban on issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The state Supreme Court voted 3-2 April 1 not to consider a petition from gay couples seeking marriage licenses from Kanawha County Clerk Alma King. In a filing with the court last week, Kanawha County Prosecutor Mike Clifford urged the justices to reject the petition, saying the Legislature resolved the issue in 2000 when it passed the Defense of Marriage Act.