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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 4, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 05
Marriage equality around the country
Section One
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Marriage equality around the country

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

As Washington's Senate voted to pass the Marriage Equality Act, marriage equality also moved forward in two other states - Maryland and New Jersey - but came under attack in New Hampshire.

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley testified in person before a legislative committee on January 31, telling lawmakers that his state's marriage equality bill was a sign of 'equal respect for the freedom of all.'

'The very reason for our state's founding was for religious freedom. At the heart of religious freedom is respect for the freedom of individual conscience,' O'Malley told the Senate Judicial Hearings Committee, referring to Maryland's origins as a haven for English Catholics.

'The way forward, the way to sustain and enhance our common life together, is equal respect for the freedom of all.'

O'Malley's full testimony was posted on his website.

A marriage equality bill narrowly passed the Maryland Senate last year but fell short in the House of Delegates, where some Democrats joined Republicans to defeat it.

This year, Democratic governor O'Malley made the bill a priority item in his legislative agenda. Maryland's legislature is heavily weighted toward Democrats, and the bill is considered likely to pass.

A Washington Post poll published January 31 showed that 50% of Maryland residents supported legalization of same-sex marriage, while 44% were opposed.

The level of support in Maryland is the highest ever in a Post poll, and is in line with the rest of the country, the newspaper said.

In New Jersey, the marriage bill has already gone through its Senate hearing, with an Assembly hearing scheduled for February 2.

Assembly Judiciary Committee chair Peter Barnes said his state's civil unions law - which gives Gay and Lesbian couples the benefits of marriage without the legal title - may not be effective in guaranteeing their rights.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has already approved the measure. Both houses of the New Jersey legislature are controlled by Democrats, who have made marriage equality a legislative priority, and the bill is expected to pass.

In 2010, a similar marriage bill was defeated in the New Jersey Senate when some Democrats defected to the anti-equality side. Then-governor Jon Corzine, a Democrat, had promised to sign it into law if it passed.

Current Republican Governor Chris Christie has vowed to veto the bill, however. Christie, a Roman Catholic, opposes same-sex marriage, and says the issue should be decided by a statewide referendum.

Democratic Senate President Stephen Sweeney says he has the votes to override Christie's veto. Sweeney abstained in the 2010 vote, but now says he is convinced that marriage equality is a civil rights issue.

In New Hampshire, Governor John Lynch also promised to use his veto power, but in his case it would be to block a repeal of his state's marriage equality law.

Lynch used his State of the State address on January 31 to reiterate his pledge to veto any attempt to repeal New Hampshire's 2009 marriage law.

'New Hampshire has a long and proud tradition of fighting for the rights of all of our people. We have a tradition of leaving people alone to pursue their own happiness. As governor, I intend to uphold that centuries-old tradition and I will stand firm against any legislation that will strip any of our citizens of their civil rights,' Lynch said, to applause from the spectators' gallery.

Democrats - who passed the marriage bill in 2009 - lost control of the New Hampshire legislature in the 2010 election, and Republican leaders have promised to repeal marriage equality.

They have not been able to agree on a strategy to do so, however. The repeal bill was originally slated to be taken up in January, but Republican leaders have postponed it to an unspecified date this month.

House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt (R) and Senate President Peter Bragdon (R) both indicated that they would prefer to focus on financial issues rather than social ones.

Some Republican legislators reportedly doubt they have the votes to override Lynch's veto, even if they are able to repeal the marriage law.

'I know for a fact, based on people I've talked to, that if Gov. Lynch vetoes it, that veto is not override-able,' Rep. Seth Cohn, a Canterbury Republican, told the Concord Monitor newspaper.

Cohn added that he plans to introduce an amendment to the House that would legalize civil unions for all couples, same-sex and opposite-sex, but leave marriage to churches and religious institutions.

The state's Republican Liberty Caucus, a libertarian-leaning group that endorsed 107 House members elected in 2010, reportedly supports Cohn's approach. The group has not taken an official position on the repeal bill.

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