State Round-Up: February 14-18, 2011
February 15, 2011 2:15 pm ET by Carlos Maza
For the February 21-25 State of Equality update, click here.
This week, a number of states are on the verge of major LGBT victories while others struggle to avoid succumbing to the anti-equality agenda.
Tuesday: A vote to permanently ban same-sex marriage in the Indiana House of Representatives -- which was expected to come up yesterday -- has been postponed until later this week so that representatives who are currently absent will have the chance to be on record in favor the ban. The ban is still expected to easily pass the House.
Wednesday: House Votes For Gay Marriage Ban Amendment. Despite same-sex marriage already being illegal in the state, the Indiana House voted 70-26 yesterday to codify marriage inequality into the state's Constitution:
According to the Evansville Courier & Press, the GOP-controlled chamber approved the amendment after less than 30 minutes of debate, reportedly an unusually short length of time for the House to discuss a controversial issue.
Statute currently prohibits same-sex marriage in Indiana. Passage of the constitutional amendment would prevent courts from overturning the ban or the Legislature from legalizing same-sex marriage in the future.
The Senate, also controlled by the GOP, is expected to approve the amendment. After both chambers pass the proposal, it would have to pass again in 2013 or 2014 in order to get on the ballot in 2014.
Friday: Indiana House Announces Bill To Limit Same-Sex Couple's Benefits. Yesterday, a bill that would restrict thebenefits of same-couples on college campuses was introduced into the Indiana House:
SB 475 would take away from same-sex couples benefits such as insurance. State-funded colleges such as Purdue would not be able to provide medical or other emergency benefits to same-sex partners of University employees.
Purdue University lobbyists were present at the bill's announcement and spoke out against it, according to Randy Studt, political action chair for Citizens for Civil Rights - a Lafayette-based non-profit group that focuses on human rights advocacy.
Friday: Kansas House Introduces Bill To Allow Sexual Orientation Discrimination. The Kansas House Judiciary Committee recently introduced a bill that would allow for housing, employment, and public accommodation discrimination against LGBT persons so long as the discrimination was based on one's religious beliefs.
Friday: Delaware Gay Rights Group Pushes For New Civil Unions Bill. Newly formed Equality Delaware has announced that it will push for legislation legalizing same-sex civil unions:
The group, chaired by Wilmington attorney Lisa Goodman, has drafted legislation and found lead sponsors in state Rep. Melanie George, D-Bear, and state Sen. David Sokola, D-Newark. Goodman said the bill would be filed in mid-March.
The proposal would apply only to same-sex couples, she said, establishing a parallel relationship to marriage, which would remain limited to opposite-sex couples. Advocates estimated about 700 couples in Delaware might enter civil unions within the first few years after the law took effect.
Tuesday: As Wyoming works to prohibit the recognition of same sex partnerships both in and out of state, certain lawmakers are looking to do even more to fight LGBT equality. Thirteen Wyoming lawmakers are asking the state Supreme Court not to acknowledge same-sex divorces because doing so would be an implicit acknowledgment of the marriages that led to them:
The 13 lawmakers want permission to file a "friend of the court" brief with the Wyoming Supreme Court. They're represented by the Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona-based Christian civil rights group that has litigated against same-sex marriage in California.
The lawmakers, including House Speaker Ed Buchanan, R-Torrington, propose to file legal papers in support of a ruling last year by Niobrara County District Judge Keith Kautz. The Supreme Court is hearing an appeal of Kautz's ruling that he lacked authority to hear a divorce case involving two women who were married in Canada in 2008.
In their request for permission to file the brief, the lawmakers argue that Wyoming would have to revise several state laws if the Wyoming Supreme Court acknowledges lower state courts can perform same-sex divorces.
Friday: Wyoming Senate Advances Anti-Gay Marriage Bill, May Recognize Civil Unions. The Wyoming Senate voted to advance a bill that would prohibit the recognition of out-of-state gay marriages, though it may have opened the door to acknowledging out-of-state civil unions in the process:
Supporters of House Bill 74 say the legislation is needed to resolve a conflict in Wyoming law, which defines marriage as a contract "between a male and a female person" but also recognizes any valid marriage performed outside the state.
Opponents hold that the bill is unnecessary, unconstitutional and discriminatory against gay and lesbian couples.
The bill, which passed second reading on Tuesday by a voice vote, faces a final Senate vote scheduled for today before it would head to Gov. Matt Mead's desk for signing.
However, the Senate approved an amendment by the bill's sponsor, state Sen. Curt Meier, R-LaGrange, to take out language that would prohibit recognition of out-of-state civil unions.
Friday Update: Wyoming Senate Passes Anti-Gay Relationship Ban. The Wyoming Senate voted to prohibit the recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages and civil unions, setting the stage for a negotiation between the Senate and House versions of the bill.
Friday: Arkansas Supreme Court Grants Visitation Rights To Non-Biological Mother. The Arkansas Supreme Court awarded child visitation rights to a woman whose same-sex partner gave birth to a child, despite Arkansas having outlawed same-sex marriage:
In a ruling Thursday, the high court said Emily Jones of Perry County was entitled to visit with the child -- designated only by her initials E.B. in the decision -- because she had been the girl's primary caregiver for the 3 1/2 years of her life before Jones and the girl's biological mother, Alicia Bethany, ended their relationship. The court said Jones stood in the capacity of a parent in her role as primary care-giver.
The decision could be indicative of how the court may rule in an upcoming case about Arkansas' Initiative 1, which made it illegal for individuals cohabitating outside of marriage to adopt or provide foster care to minors:
Last year, twenty-nine plaintiffs, including adults and children, sued, claiming Initiative 1 infringed on state and constitutional guarantees to equal treatment and won in a lower court.
The Arkansas Supreme Court then accepted the appeal of that ruling by the states attorney general, scheduling oral arguments for next month. Today's ruling could be a signal and be a precursor of how the Arkansas Justices might rule in that case.
Friday: New Mexico House Committee Tables Anti-Equality Bills. Democrats on the House Consumer & Public Affairs Committee voted this week to table three anti-equality bills being considered by the New Mexico state legislature, "effectively stalling, if not killing the bills for the session":
The bills, HJR 7 and HJR 8 which are constitutional amendments that would define marriage as only between one man and one woman, as well as HB 162, the "Retroactive Bar on Same Sex Marriages" bill, were attempts by social conservatives in the state to enshrine discrimination in the state's constitution. These bills would deny thousands of New Mexican families the dignity that comes from having their relationships recognized.
Thursday: Gov. Patrick Signs Executive Order Protecting Transgender State Employees. Governor Patrick signed an executive order to prohibiting employment discrimination based on gender identity or expression against state employees. This is great news, but work remains to be done:
Unfortunately, this executive order only covers employees of state agencies and contractors. Many transgender residents of the Commonwealth face pervasive discrimination in the workplace and in other aspects of their lives. A study released earlier this month by the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force found that 76 percent of transgender respondents from Massachusetts were harassed or mistreated on the job, and 20 percent reported losing their jobs because they are transgender.
Wednesday: Proposition 8 Decision Likely To Be Made Today. The California Supreme Court is expected to decide today whether Prop 8's sponsors have the legal authority to defend the ballot measure:
Depending on the court's ruling, the 9th Circuit could either dismiss the Proposition 8 appeal on procedural grounds -- limiting the case's effect to California -- or rule on federal constitutional questions that would affect same-sex marriage throughout the country.
A federal judge in San Francisco struck down Proposition 8 in August, ruling after a 12-day trial that the 2008 ballot measure violated equal protection guarantees under the U.S. Constitution. Experts testified during the trial that one's sexual orientation was largely fixed and that matrimony benefits the families of gays and lesbians.
California state officials refused to appeal the ruling. Now the 9th Circuit must determine whether Proposition 8's sponsors, ProtectMarriage.com, have legal standing to challenge the trial court's decision.
Wed. Update: California Supreme Court Will Hear Standing Arguments. The California Supreme Court has decided to hear arguments on whether supporters of Proposition 8 have standing to appeal Perry v. Schwarzenegger:
California's Supreme Court has just released their ruling on standing in the federal Prop 8 case, deciding that they will hear arguments on whether or not "Yes On 8″ should have standing to appeal a federal court's decision which found last year that Prop 8 did, indeed, violate the rights of California's gay and lesbian citizens and that marriage as an institution should be available equally for same-sex couples as it is for opposite-sex couples. This ruling comes in response to a request from the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which effectively "punted" the ruling on standing to the California Supreme Court.
Tuesday: The Hawaii state legislature is expected to give final approval today to a proposal that will legalize civil unions in the state. After the final senate vote, the bill will be sent to Governor Neil Abercrombie, who has promised to sign the measure into law:
The state Legislature is poised to give final approval today to a proposal to permit civil unions in Hawaii, sending it to Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who has promised to sign the measure.
"Of course, the governor intends to sign the bill," said Donalyn Dela Cruz, Abercrombie's spokeswoman.
Wednesday: Hawaii Senate Passes Civil Unions Bill. In an 18-5 vote, the Hawaii Senate approved a bill to legalize civil unions. The bill now goes to Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who has promised to sign the bill into law.
Thursday: Hawaii Confirms First Openly Gay Supreme Court Justice. The Hawaii state Senate unanimously confirmed Sabrina McKenna to the state's Supreme Court yesterday, making her the first openly gay member of the court and only the second out lesbian Supreme Court justice in the U.S.
Tuesday: It now appears that Maryland's marriage equality bill has secured enough votes to pass the Senate. Two more senators said they intended to vote for the bill on Monday, bringing the total numbers of supporters to 24 - the minimum needed for passage:
In interviews Monday, two more senators said they intended to vote for the bill, increasing the number who have made such commitments to 24 - the bare majority needed for passage in the 47-member Senate - according to an ongoing Washington Post tally.
"I think it's the fair thing to do," said Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier (D-Baltimore County), who said she had gone back and forth on the bill a few times. "I just weighed all the options. I think it's fairness."
Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer (D-Baltimore County) also voiced support for the bill in an interview Monday, saying, "I don't see how you can deny the right" to gay couples to marry.
If the bill clears the Senate, it would move to the House - traditionally the more liberal of the two chambers on social policy. Sponsors say they are confident they can secure a majority there.
In other good Maryland news, if a woman gives birth to a child in Maryland, her same-sex spouse will now automatically be listed as the child's parent on the birth certificate. The Maryland Division of Health and Mental Hygiene sent a letter to state birth registrars informing them of the change last Thursday.
Wednesday: Undecided Senator Will Vote Against Marriage Equality. Sen. Ulysses Currie has announced that he intends to vote against Maryland's same-sex marriage bill:
"It might have a lot to do with my background, coming up in the South, coming up through the churches," Currie, the son of a North Carolina sharecropper, said in an interview. "That has much to do with it as anything."
The vote on the bill, which is expected to reach the Senate floor next week, looks like it will be very close.
A Post tally published earlier this week showed 24 senators -- the bare minimum needed for passage -- having said they would vote for the bill. That tally includes Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore), who told The Post that she was willing to be the deciding vote if needed but would not vote for the bill if it was going to fail. Conway has been more equivocal in statements to other publications.
Thursday: Maryland To Send Marriage Bill To Senate Today. The Maryland senate judicial proceedings committee is expected to vote on the marriage equality bill today, which would pave the way for a vote by the full senate. Seven of the committee's eleven members have voiced support for the bill.
Thurs. Update: Marriage Equality Bill Passes Senate Committee. The Maryland State Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee voted to pass Maryland's marriage equality bill, setting the stage for a full Senate vote that will likely come down to the wire.
Wednesday: State Employment Discrimination Bill Fails. A bill to protect Virginia's state employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity has died in a House of Delegates subcommittee:
The same GOP-led panel killed similar legislation last year. Democrats had pushed the bill hard this year, in part in response to a letter that Attorney Gen. Ken Cuccinelli (R)delivered to colleges and universities last year instructing them that, in the absence of a decision by the General Assembly to write protections for gays into law, they could not include language dealing with sexual orientation in their campus non-discrimination policies.
After Cuccinelli's letter sparked a firestorm, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) issued a executive directive outlining that the state does not discriminate, including on the grounds of sexual orientation, and that employees who violate the policy can be disciplined.
Opponents of the bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Don McEachin (D-Richmond), argue that there is little evidence gay state workers face discrimination and that the governor's executive directive provides sufficient protections. Proponents note that without a change in law, employees cannot sue if they have faced discrimination.
Tuesday: The state of Arizona is in court this week defending its decision to cut health benefits for the same-sex partners of state employees:
Lawmakers and Gov. Jan Brewer intended to cut benefits to all domestic partners when they reversed a rule change under then-Gov. Janet Napolitano as part of a budget-balancing bill.
But a lawsuit filed on behalf of 10 state employees in November 2009 argued that the law discriminates against gay and lesbians. In July, U.S. District Judge John Sedwick agreed and temporarily prevented the benefit cut for same-sex couples, saying the law violated the U.S. Constitution's equal-protection clause by making it impossible for homosexuals to get health coverage for their partners.
The state can't require employees to be married in order to qualify for family benefits when Arizona offers no legal unions for same-sex couples, said Tara Borelli, an attorney with Lambda Legal, a New York-based advocacy group that filed the lawsuit.
"The state has set up a legal impossibility for gay couples," said Borelli, who will argue the case today.
Meanwhile, Arizona lawmakers are considering a number of different approaches for tackling bullying against gay and lesbian youths in schools. While some have proposed toughening the requirements of schools to document and report bullying, others have pushed for policies that explicitly forbid bullying based on sexual orientation.
Tuesday: Yesterday, Colorado State Senator Pat Steadman introduced a bill that would grant statewide recognition of civil unions between gay and lesbian couples. The bill is expected to easily pass the Senate but may face a tougher fight in the Republican-controlled House:
The bill comes after weeks of anticipation. Steadman has taken his time throughout the process. He carefully weighed even sponsoring the bill, telling the Colorado Independent last summer that he sympathized with critics of civil unions who say such laws codify a less-than-equal status for gay couples. In the end, however, he said that the rights and responsibilities legally recognized civil unions conferred in everyday matters like medical care and inheritance were too vital to ignore.
After the legislative session began in January, Steadman allowed bill drafters time to pour through the hundreds of instances where statutes address the rights and responsibilities of married couples. He plans to have lawmakers opposed to the bill articulate exactly which of those rights and responsibilities they would keep from gay Coloradans.
Tuesday: Hearings are scheduled this week for a bill that would repeal New Hampshire's 2-year-old marriage equality law. The bill's sponsors are committed to moving it forward despite public support for the current marriage law and Governor John Lynch's promise to veto any attempt to take away the rights of same-sex couples:
Bills sponsored by Rep. David Bates, R-Windham, and Rep. Leo Pepino, R-Manchester, would derail the 2-year-old law. Polls just released by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center and New Hampshire Freedom to Marry indicate many Granite Staters oppose a repeal.
The Survey Center poll shows 62 percent of the 520 adults surveyed are against a repeal, including 51 percent who are strongly opposed, while 29 percent back the move. Nine percent were neutral, according to the poll, conducted between Jan. 27 and Feb. 6.
Tuesday: Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox announced last week that he was not yet ready to bring a bill legalizing same-sex marriage up for a vote. Fox hopes to allow House leadership time to "digest" the testimony presented at a recent House Judiciary Committee while he works to muster enough votes for the bill's passage:
Fox, a co-sponsor of the bill, told The Providence Journal that several issues must be ironed out first before the legislation can come up for a vote.
Fox cited the need to ensure that the Senate would consider the bill. Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed opposes the legislation.
"You don't put something out there to fail if you can avoid that by taking some time to talk to people and making sure you have everything lined up," Fox said. "Rushing into some things is not the best strategy."
Tuesday: Yesterday, state senator Ed Murray introduced a marriage equality bill that would reverse Washington's 1998 Defense of Marriage Act. Democrats are control of both houses of Congress as well as the governor's mansion, significantly improving the bill's chances of passing:
Same-sex marriage has been banned in Washington since 1998, when the legislature passed the state's Defense of Marriage Act. Washington's DOMA doesn't prevent the legislature from reversing the ban on marriage equality, and Democrats control both houses of the legislature as well as the governor's mansion. Gov. Christine Gregoire signed an expanded domestic-partnership bill into law in 2009 (which was almost repealed by voters in November of that year), though it's not clear what her thoughts are on same-sex marriage.
Monday's senate bill was introduced by gay state senator Ed Murray of Seattle, reports the Victory Fund's Gay Politics blog.