The issue, thought to be on the national backburner just a few weeks ago, is front-and-center once again and could find its way on the ballot in as many as five states, with two of them (Maine and Oregon) possibly legalizing it and two (Minnesota and North Carolina) looking at changing state constitutions to define marriage as between a man and a woman. It would appear on the ballot in a fifth state, Maryland, if a bill legalizing "gay marriage" passes and citizens try to reverse the law.
The ballot initiatives could play a role in court cases, too: Federal courts are known to look at what is happening in the states.
All total, at least 10 states could see "gay marriage" as a forefront issue next year -- many of them battleground states for the 2012 presidential race.
Supporters of "gay marriage" seem to have the momentum right now, and they may have added to it July 2 when Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an Independent, signed a bill legalizing same-sex civil unions, making the state the ninth to pass a law granting same-sex couples the legal benefits of marriage without the word "marriage." The bill, though, fell short of what homosexual activists had wanted -- "gay marriage."
Brian Brown, president of the traditional group National Organization for Marriage, believes the other side is not winning. His group helped defeat "gay marriage" in Maine (2009) and California (2008) and has pledged $2 million to defeat Republican legislators in New York who voted for "gay marriage."
"We've never lost a popular vote," Brown told Baptist Press. "New York was a big loss, but it was unique because it involved the corruption of Albany and Republicans being willing to sell out their voters for promises of money.... You have civil unions instead of same-sex marriage in Rhode Island, and that's a pretty stunning defeat for supporters of same-sex marriage. Rhode Island is one of the most Democratically controlled states in the country.
"Gay marriage," Brown said, "is going to be a major, major issue in the presidential election."
Here is where the issue stands nationally in several key states:
-- Minnesota: Voters there will vote on a constitutional amendment in 2012 that would define marriage in the traditional sense. The vote in the left-leaning state could swing the momentum back to traditionalists or it could make Minnesota the first state to defeat such an amendment at the ballot.
-- North Carolina: The legislature, led by Republicans for the first time since 1898, is expected to vote later this year or early next year and place a marriage amendment on the 2012 ballot. North Carolina is the only state without a marriage amendment in what generally is considered to be the Southeast region.
-- Iowa: The Iowa legislature may have the votes to place a constitutional marriage amendment on the ballot, but Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, a Democrat and "gay marriage" supporter, says he won't allow a vote. Traditionalists say they'll make it an issue in 2012. The GOP controls the state House but Democrats hold a 26-24 edge in the Senate. "Gay marriage" is legal in the state via court-order.
-- New Hampshire: The Republican-led legislature is expected by early next year to try to reverse the state's "gay marriage" law, which was passed when Democrats were in control. The bill likely will pass, but it us unknown whether the GOP has the votes to override a veto by Democratic Gov. John Lynch. The vote could make the issue a significant one in the GOP's first-in-the-nation primary there.
-- Maine: After losing in 2009, homosexual groups in the state say they will try in 2012 to legalize "gay marriage" at the ballot. The two groups -- Equality Maine and Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders -- must collect 57,000 signatures. Voters in 2009 reversed a "gay marriage" law, 53-47 percent.
-- Oregon: Basic Rights Oregon, a homosexual group, is considering gathering signatures to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2012 to legalize "gay marriage." An amendment is necessary because a constitutional amendment defining marriage between a man and a woman passed in 2004.
-- Maryland: A bill to legalize "gay marriage" could come up again in the Maryland legislature this year or next year after it failed to gain majority support in March. Supporters hope the New York victory will boost their chances. Even if it passes, traditionalists can gather signatures and try to place the issue on the 2012 ballot.
-- California: Supporters of "gay marriage" have yet to decide whether they want to try to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2012 that would reverse Prop 8, which also was a constitutional amendment. Prop 8 passed, 52-48 percent, and polls show the state remains evenly divided. Most observers think homosexual groups would rather avoid a 2012 vote and let the Prop 8 federal case play itself out.
-- New Jersey: Garden State Equality and Lambda Legal, two homosexual groups, filed a lawsuit in state court June 29 seeking to legalize "gay marriage." The state's civil unions law, the suit says, is inadequate. In 2006 the high court refused to legalize "gay marriage" but issued a split-verdict decision that led to the civil unions law. A court ruling in 2012 is possible.
-- Rhode Island: After failing to see "gay marriage" legalized in Rhode Island, supporters could try again in the legislature during the next year or they could try and flip enough seats in 2012 to change their outlook for 2013. The bill at one time this year was favored to pass but faced significant opposition from Catholic and elderly voters. Chafee, the governor, supported the bill.
Nationwide, five states recognize "gay marriage": Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Iowa. Nine states recognize civil unions or domestic partnerships: Delaware, Rhode Island, Illinois, California, Nevada, New Jersey, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington. Twenty-nine states have amended their constitutions to define marriage as between a man and a woman.
Traditionalists warn "gay marriage" legalization would have a host of negative effects on religious liberty, impacting what is taught in schools and forcing private businesses and some religiously affiliated public organizations to endorse that to which they are morally opposed.
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.
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