Arizona: A legal challenge to a state law banning marriages for same-sex couples goes before the state Supreme Court later this month as the justices meet privately to decide whether to rule on that case and others. An appeal asking the Supreme Court to overturn a Court of Appeals decision upholding the ban is on the court’s May 25 conference agenda, court officials said May 3. The Court of Appeals held that same-sex couples have no fundamental constitutional right to marriage.
California: Sen. William J. “Pete” Knight, author of the state’s Defense of Marriage Act which was passed in 2000, died of leukemia May 7. He was 74. His nonprofit group is at the center of the legal challenges to San Francisco’s marriages of same-sex couples. His son, David Knight, married Joseph Lazzaro, his partner of 10 years, at San Francisco’s City Hall earlier this year, just two days before the California Supreme Court shut down the weddings.
A marriage rights bill that won historic committee passage last month probably won’t go any farther this year, state Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez said May 4. The measure passed the Assembly Judiciary Committee last month, marking the first formal vote in support of marriage for same-sex couples by a legislative body in the United States. The legislation would amend the state family code to define marriage as between “two persons” instead of between a man and a woman.
Iowa: In a brief filed May 10, Lambda Legal is asking the Iowa State Supreme Court to reject an attempt made by anti-gay groups to insert themselves into a case in which an Iowa district court granted two Sioux City women’s request to terminate their civil union. The two women filed papers to dissolve their civil union in August of 2003. The judge noted he simply was resolving a legal matter between a couple. The brief argues that none of the parties involved in the challenge have legal standing to interfere in the case because they aren’t harmed in any way by the judge’s decision. The brief also points out that Iowa law permits a court to terminate a civil union, so that the members of the couple can move on with their lives with certainty about their legal rights, plan financially, and start new families.
Kansas: Ten members of the Kansas House shifted their positions late in the legislative session on amending the Constitution to ban marriage for same-sex couples. They voted for a proposed amendment in March, but against a similar measure this month, costing the amendment the two-thirds majority that would have put it before voters in November.
Louisiana: A Senate committee voted 5-2 on May 4 to place a ban on marriages for same-sex couples, as well as civil unions, in the state constitution. State law has long held that people of the same sex cannot marry, and Louisiana does not recognize marriages between same-sex couples from other states.
Maine: The Senate has approved legislation barring the state from recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples performed outside the state.
A Superior Court judge has rejected a complaint challenging Portland’s domestic partnership ordinance, after the Washington-based American Center for Law & Justice recruited several married couples in Portland to challenge the ordinance on grounds it violated the state’s 1997 Defense of Marriage Act. The city of Portland began offering health benefits to employees’ domestic partners in 1999. Two years later, the domestic partnership ordinance established a registry for committed, unmarried couples.
Massachusetts: Conservative groups filed a motion in federal court May 10 seeking to block the legalization of marriage between same-sex couples next week, arguing that the state’s highest court violated the U.S. Constitution with its November ruling. After unsuccessful attempts to overturn the case in state court, this marks the first time the state’s marriage case has been brought into federal court. The motion argues that the court usurped the constitutional powers of the Legislature and the governor when it changed the state’s marriage laws. According to the motion this violated the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees a uniform separation of power in all of the states. Several conservative groups filed the case on behalf of Robert Largess of Boston, vice president of the Catholic Action League.
Missouri: Supporters and opponents of a proposed constitutional amendment banning marriage for same-sex couples attended rallies at the Capitol May 3. The proposed amendment – which would need approval by voters – says the state recognizes marriage only as existing between one man and one woman. That policy is already included in a state law. The House and Senate have both passed versions of the proposed amendment. If they agree on and pass a single version, it would go on a future state wide ballot.
New Hampshire: The Senate approved changes May 6 to legislation that would block recognition of marriages between same-sex couples performed out of state. The House version changed the original legislation, removing a definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman. It also added a committee to look at what state laws need to be changed to allow civil unions between gays and lesbians.
New Jersey: Lambda Legal filed an appeal May 6 on behalf of seven gay and lesbian couples seeking full marriage rights. The suit began in 2002, and the appeal follows a lower court decision late last year.
New Mexico: A district judge denied a request May 7 to lift a temporary restraining order prohibiting the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Sandoval County by Clerk Victoria Dunlap who issued 66 licenses in February to gay and lesbian couples. She contends state law doesn’t define any gender constraints in the issuing of licenses.
New York: On May 5 the New York City Council voted 43-5 to pass the Equal Benefits Bill, requiring companies with city contracts worth at least $100,000 to provide health, family and bereavement benefits to domestic partners, gay or straight. Supporters of the bill said the council had enough votes to override a promised mayoral veto.
Ohio: Citizens for Community Values, proponents of amending the state’s constitution to ban marriages for same-sex couples plan to begin circulating petitions May 8 to put the question on the November ballot, even though there’s a chance those signatures might later be tossed. A judge issued a temporary restraining order May 7 that allows the group to collect the signatures but says they may not submit them to the Secretary of State before the final ruling in a lawsuit over whether the petition language meets state requirements.
Oregon: The state asked a Multnomah County judge on May 6 to suspend his order to recognize more than 3,000 marriages between same-sex couples. The order was part of Circuit Judge Frank Bearden’s overall ruling on April 20 that the state’s marriage law unconstitutionally deprives same-sex couples of equal rights. The judge barred Multnomah County from granting more marriage licenses to gay couples, but also directed the state’s vital records office to accept as valid the 3,022 same-sex marriage licenses already issued. In addition, Bearden directed the Legislature to revise marriage laws during its next session to comply with the constitution.
Facing a recall drive from opponents of gay marriage, the county commissioner who opened the door to marriage for same-sex couples in Oregon apologized on May 6 for “mistakes” she has made during her tenure. Multnomah County board Chairwoman Diane Linn said she was sorry that the decision to allow gays to marry in the county was made without public debate, but added that she did not regret that the marriage licenses were granted. As of Wednesday, 19,060 people had signed the recall petition, but 36,786 are needed by June 7 to hold a recall election.
Tennessee: The House of Representatives voted 86-5 on May 6 for a constitutional amendment that would prohibit marriages for same-sex couples. The change would insert into the state Constitution the definition of marriage that already exists in state law. That law says marriage is a union between one man and one woman and bars recognition in Tennessee of other types of unions recognized in any other state or country.
Washington: Telling a state court that same-sex couples in the state need the protections and security that marriage provides, Lambda Legal and the Northwest Women’s Law Center filed court papers May 7 seeking a prompt ruling in the case without a trial. Lambda Legal and the Northwest Women’s Law Center filed a lawsuit two months ago on behalf of same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses in King County, arguing that denying marriage to same-sex couples violates the state Constitution’s guarantees of equality, liberty and privacy.