Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Maine Becomes 5th U.S. State to Permit Same-Sex Marriages

Gov.  John E. Balducci (D-ME) signed legislation today that puts Maine on the train of marriage equality.  With the signing of LD 1020, An Act to End Discrimination in Civil Marriage and Affirm Religious Freedom, Maine becomes the 5th U.S. State (not counting CA) to allow same-sex civil marriages and the 2nd (after Vermont) to do so by legislation rather than by decision of a state supreme court.  The ME law contained specific provisions that would protect religious groups who object to same-sex marriage from having their right to discriminate infringed, including protecting the right to refuse to use church (synagogue, etc.) property for a same-sex wedding ceremony even if the church (synagogue, etc.) was in the practice of renting out church property to non-church members for weddings.  With these provisions, the ME law takes notice of the religious liberty concerns that some people who are otherwise supportive of marriage equality had.  (I, myself, believe that these kinds of religious liberty conflicts could well have been handled by the courts in the same way that they were for interracial marriages after Loving v. Virginia in 1967, but if a law spells this out beforehand, it certainly saves time and trouble. 🙂 )

States with civil marriage equality now include Massachussetts, Connecticut,  Iowa, Vermont, and Maine.  Last year, California’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality and same-sex marriages were legal for several months, but a ballot initiative known as Proposition 8 amended the state constitution to once more restrict civil marriages to heterosexual couples.  The legality of Proposition 8 itself (opponents claim that it is  not a simple amendment, but a major revision of the California constitution and thus cannot be made by simple ballot initiative) is itself being challenged in the state supreme court, but it is widely believed that Prop. 8 will stand.  (This will not end the struggle for marriage equality in CA, but will delay it.)

Next up is probably New Hampshire.  The NH legislature has passed marriage equality legislation,but the different versions between House and Senate (one chamber includes religious liberty provisions similiar to Me) have to be reconciled  [update] and today reconciled the two versions and this afternoon sent the final version (with religious protections similar to ME)  to the governor.  Gov.  David Lynch (D-NH) is an odd duck who hasn’t said whether or not he’ll sign the law and has said that his constituents SHOULD NOT call him with their opinions!!  Legislation supporting marriage equality has also been introduced in New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, but has yet to clear committee for floor votes in any of these states. 

It looks as if New England will be the first entire region of the nation where marriage equality will be the law of the land. Iowa is the lone state outside of New England where marriage equality is legal. Iowa is deep in the heartland of the nation and if the law stands there, then it will be a bellwhether for the rest of the nation.  What is happening in New England is amazing, but marriage equality supporters need to watch continued developments in Iowa to see how fast this victory will spread outside of New England–which is the most socially liberal region of the  nation.

Cf.: By contrast, the Louisiana legislature is moving to enact legislation that would prevent same-sex couples from both having their names on the birth certificates of children.  This would apply whether or not the children were by one partner from a previous heterosexual relationship, adopted by the couple, or conceived through in vitro fertilization.  In my view, this law seems particularly cruel:  A child learns to call both parents “mommy,” or “daddy,” but only one is legally entitled to that honorific?  And the practical implications are devastating; as one example, it would all but force hospitals to discriminate against the parent that was not legally “family” in cases where all but family are isolated from the patient.  Or, if the legal parent died, this law would make it hard for the other parent to have custody–she or he would have to adopt and there would be custody battles.  This anti-family law , if passed, will hurt the children most of all.

So, one sees that the struggle for equal treatment under the law continues–and not everywhere at the same speed or even in the same direction.

May 6, 2009 - Posted by | church-state separation, civil liberties, GLBT issues, religious liberty

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