Gay marriage debate rages in states

While same-sex couples line up at city halls across the country in hopes of being married, sometimes defending their right to do so by demonstrating in the streets, the debate over gay marriage rages on in state legislatures.

In Maryland, that state’s House Judiciary Committee this week defeated two bills that sought to legally prohibit the recognition of same-sex marriages. One of the bills would have amended the state’s constitution to define marriage as only between a man and a woman, while the other would have prohibited recognition of gay marriages performed in other states.

The defeat of the bills was hailed as a victory for fairness by Equality Maryland, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights group.

The Georgia Legislature is considering two proposals seeking to ban gay marriage, including one that would ban recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states. While the Democrat-majority state House continues to debate the measures, it is still unclear as to whether either measure will be able to gather enough support to pass.

State Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Atlanta), the state’s only openly gay legislator, has become the center of the political firestorm. “When it gets real bad, I think about the 24th mile, the come-to-Jesus mile, when you’ve got blisters on your feet and your whole body aches,” Drenner told reporters. “For me, the finish line here is when this country doesn’t care who you love.”

Massachusetts lawmakers were set to reconvene their constitutional convention on March 11 to consider a “compromise” proposal that would ban same-sex marriage but allow “civil unions.” The convention suspended its session on Feb. 12 after defeating three attempts to pass a ban on gay marriage.

In New Paltz, N.Y., a village a few hours north of New York City, Mayor Jason West began performing marriages of same-sex couples. Though conservatives have brought charges against West, New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has said that same-sex marriages performed elsewhere will be recognized in New York State.

In Chicago, about 300 advocates of same-sex marriage rights rallied outside the Cook County Clerk’s Office on March 4, demanding that gay couples be issued marriage licenses.

Over a dozen states are currently debating measures that would ban same-sex marriages. In Idaho the measure was also defeated in committee. However, in Wisconsin and Kansas such measures received House approval and are headed for those states’ senates. Utah voters are set to decide on a constitutional ban in November.

The debate has also continued on the federal level, with a Senate subcommittee hearing held in the days following Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s outspoken defense of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington bureau, testified, saying, “The NAACP is greatly disappointed that President George Bush and others have decided to enter this election cycle by endorsing an amendment that would forever write discrimination into the U.S. Constitution, rather than focusing on the crucial problems and challenges that affect the lives of all of us.”

Pointing to the economic problems of unemployment and deficit, he stated, “This discriminatory constitutional amendment appears to be nothing more than a highly divisive political ploy to distract the country from focusing on our overabundance of real problems and our tremendous lack of creative and effective solutions.”

Cheryl Jacques, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said, “Our elected officials should heed the testimony of one of our nation’s foremost civil rights organizations – denying rights to Americans has no place in our nation’s Constitution.” The HRC subbmitted written testimony to the subcommittee.

The author can be reached at jbarnett@pww.org.