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State Of Equality Round-Up: February 21-25, 2011

February 22, 2011 3:18 pm ET by Carlos Maza

Top Headlines:

- Maryland: Senate Passes Marriage Equality Bill

- Kansas: House Committee Tables LGBT Discrimination Bill

- Iowa: House Introduces Bill To End Same-Sex Marriage Licenses, Prohibit Supreme Court Oversight

To check out last week's State of Equality Round-Up, click here.

California

Tuesday: Senate Introduces Bill To Force State To Defend Ballot Propositions. Republican State Senator Tom Harman introduced a bill last week that would require the state's Attorney General to defend ballot propositions -- like California's Proposition 8 -- hoping to avoid recreating the legal mess that has arisen as a result of Attorney General Kamala Harris's decision not to defend the same-sex marriage ban in court. The text of the bill reads:

The Attorney General shall not refuse to defend a constitutional amendment or an initiative statute on the basis of it being unconstitutional, or in conflict with, or in violation of federal law or regulation, unless an appellate court has made a determination that the amendment or statute is unconstitutional or otherwise in conflict with, or in violation of, federal law or regulation.

State Assembly Introduces Bill Protecting LGBT Californians. Assemblymember Toni Atkins recently introduced a bill that would strengthen employment, housing, and other protections for LGBTCalifornians by explicitly enumerating gender identity and expression as protected categories in non-discrimination laws. From a February 18 Transgender Law Center press release:

"Existing non-discrimination laws are confusing and vague for employers, housing authorities and others who bear the responsibility of ensuring that the laws are enforced," said Equality California Executive Director Geoff Kors. "This bill would reduce the harms caused by discrimination by inserting language into state law that is direct and easily understood. In addition, by being clear about what the law requires, it will reduce litigation and costs to employers, landlords, and others."

California non-discrimination laws already define "gender" to include a person's gender identity (how they see themselves) and gender expression (how other people see them). AB 887 specifically enumerates gender identity and gender expression in order to simplify compliance with existing legal protections.

Wednesday: Prop 8 Plaintiffs Ask 9th Circuit To Lift Same-Sex Marriage Stay. Opponents of California's Proposition 8 have filed a "Motion to Vacate Stay Pending Appeal," asking the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to allow same-sex marriages to resume as the proposition's legal battle plays out. The effort was led by the American Foundation for Equal Rights, led by Ted Olson. 

Delaware

Tuesday: Equality Delaware Announces Details Of Civil Unions Bill. Over a hundred people met in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware over the weekend to clarify the details of a proposed civil unions bill. The effort is being headed by the newly formed Equality Delaware. From a February 21 Washington Blade article:

Goodman, along with others from Equality Delaware, answered questions and listened to comments from those in attendance. It was announced that the sponsors of the bill will be state Rep. Melanie George (D-Bear) and state Sen. David Sokola (D-Newark).

Lawmakers plan to introduce the measure next month. It is anticipated that if the bill passes that civil unions in Delaware would be available only to gay and lesbian couples. Full marriage rights would remain limited to opposite-sex couples.

Hawaii

Tuesday: Gov. Abercrombie To Sign Civil Unions Bill Wednesday. Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie announced that he was planning to sign the recently passed civil unions bill into law this Wednesday, a day earlier than expected. It will become his first measure to sign into law since taking office in December.

Wed. Update: Gov. Abercrombie To Sign Civil Union Bill Today, Trans Protections Proceed To Floor. Governor Neil Abercrombie is expected to sign a bill legalizing civil unions into law this afternoon. In addition, House Bill 546, which would establish gender identity protections in employment, passed the House Judiciary Committee by a unanimous vote. The bill now goes to the House floor for further consideration. 

Thursday: Governor Abercrombie Signs Civil Unions Bill Into Law. Yesterday, Governor Neil Abercrombie signed legislation legalizing civil unions into law. Abercrombie said the passage of the bill was "a prime example of exercising civic courage."

Iowa

Thursday: House Introduces Bill To End Same-Sex Marriage Licenses, Prohibit Supreme Court Oversight. Six Iowa House Republicans have introduced a bill to prohibit county recorders from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The bill would also prohibit the Iowa Supreme Court from restricting or striking down the bill if passed. From a February 23 Des Moines Register article:

Review of laws by the Supreme Court is one of the fundamental pieces of Iowa's checks and balances system.

However, there is a provision in the Iowa Constitution (Article 5, Section 4) that allows lawmakers the ability to make laws that skip Supreme Court review, noted Drake Law Professor Ian Bartrum.

"It's technically probably constitutional but it's a pretty rare and radical step and probably an ill-advised one," said Bartrum. "I think this is a knee-jerk reaction. They say, we have this power and they don't think about what this means to the outcome on the ground."

Kansas

Thursday: House Committee Tables LGBT Discrimination Bill. The Kansas House Committee on the Judiciary voted overwhelmingly to table HB 2260, which would have allowed for discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people so long as it was based on a religious belief. From a February 21 Kansas Equality Coalition post:

There was no debate on this bill, which the proponents are calling the "Religious Freedom Restoration Act," this afternoon. As soon as it came up, a motion was immediately made to table; that motion passed by either a 12-8 or 13-7 majority (it was over so quickly, I didn't have an opportunity to count the hands raised in favor of the motion).

Since the bill was only tabled and not voted down outright, this means it *could* come up for action later in the session, but given the fact that we're halfway through and most bills need to have been voted on by at least one chamber by Friday, it's unlikely we're going to see it again this year.

Maine

Tuesday: Judge Rules NOM Must Disclose Donors. A federal judged recently ruled Maine's campaign finance disclosure law to be constitutional, ending an effort by the National Organization for Marriage to avoid disclosing its donors. From a February 18 Maine Public Broadcasting Network article:

"Voters sometimes receive a lot of communications and it's not always clear to them who is funding them and what their positions are and what they're all about, and this maintains disclosure in Maine and it's a good decision," Wayne says.

The challenge was brought by the National Organization for Marriage, which spent $1.9 million dollars in a successful campaign to overturn Maine's same-sex marriage law in 2009. The Ethics Commission had determined that NOM was required to disclose the identities of its donors, but the group refused, and filed suit on grounds that Maine's requirements were unconstitutional on a number of fronts. 

Maryland

Tuesday: Marriage Equality Vote May Come This Week. A bill to legalize marriage equality was introduced into the Senate today and is expected to come up for a vote as early as this week. The Maryland Republican Party is increasing its lobbying efforts, urging constituents to contact nine senators deemed "key" to the bill's passage and demand that they "vote no on the assault on traditional marriage." From a February 19 Washington Post article:

All nine senators listed in Mooney's email are Democrats. Absent from the list is Sen. Allan H. Kittleman (R-Howard), the only Republican in the chamber who has voiced support for the legislation.

Of the nine senators, six have publicly voiced support for the bill. Another -- Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore) -- has said she is willing to be the deciding vote in favor of the bill but will not vote for the bill if she believes it will fail.

New Poll Confirms Plurality Support For Marriage Equality. A new poll reveals that 49% of Maryland voters favor marriage equality compared to 41% who oppose and 10% with no opinion. From a February 21 Equality Maryland post:

Across Maryland, support for civil marriage equality sits at a 8 point advantage- 49% of voters favor marriage equality as compared to 41% who oppose it and 10% with no opinion.  Grove also found that after discussing the love and commitment of gay and lesbian couples, support jumped another 4 points with 53% in favor of marriage for same-sex couples.  These results are consistent with the January 2011 Washington Post survey which reported that 51 percent of Maryland voters support marriage equality. 

Wednesday: Marriage Equality Filibuster Unlikely. Senate Minority Leader Nancy Jacobs has said that she does not believe she have the votes to maintain a filibuster against Maryland's marriage equality bill. This news significantly improves the prospects that Maryland will become the next state in the U.S. to legalize same-sex marriage. 

Wed. Update: Marriage Equality Bill Advances In The Senate. The Maryland Senate voted 25-22 to give "preliminary approval" or a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage today. The final vote in the Senate is expected tomorrow or Friday. From a February 23 Washington Blade article:

Wednesday's vote came after the Senate defeated four proposed amendments introduced by opponents of the bill calling for allowing private businesses or individuals not affiliated with religious institutions to discriminate against same-sex couples in services or public accommodations based on a religious conviction.

But opponents garnered enough support to pass by a vote of 26 to 21 an amendment changing the bill's name from the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act to the Civil Marriage Protection Act.

Thursday: Senator Wants Maryland Voters To Decide Same-Sex Marriage Issue. State Senator Barry Glassman declared his desire to see a public referendum on marriage equality if the Senate votes to legalize same-sex marriage. 

Thurs. Update: Senate Pass Marriage Equality Bill. The Maryland Senate voted 25-21 today for a bill to legalize same-sex marriage. The bill now moves to the House of Delegates, which is widely considered to be more progressive than the Senate. If it passes there, it will be up to Governor Martin O'Malley, who has already expressed support for the bill, to sign it into law.

Montana

Tuesday: House Committee Approves Bill To Overturn Anti-Discrimination Ordinance. The Montana House Judiciary Committee voted yesterday to approve of a bill that would nullify a 2010 ordinance that prohibited discrimination against residents of Missoula based on sexual orientation and gender identity. From a February 22 Missoulian article:

House Bill 516 by Rep. Kristin Hansen, R-Havre, now moves to the House floor for debate this week.

It would prohibit local governments from enacting ordinances or policies that seek to protect residents from real or perceived discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender as the cities of Missoula did through an ordinance and Bozeman did through a policy.

Tues. Update: Senate Committee Votes To Take Sodomy Law Off Books. The Montana Senate Judiciary Committee voted 7-5 to remove a law declaring homosexual acts illegal from the books. From a February 18 Missoulian article:

The Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed on a 7-5 vote a bill that removes from the books a Montana law declaring homosexual acts illegal, sending the proposal to the full Senate. The obsolete language remains in the code even though the state Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in 1997.

Two Republicans sided with Democrats on the issue even though the Montana GOP's official platform still supports the law.

Wednesday: Senate Votes To Take Sodomy Laws Off Books. The Montana Senate voted today to eliminate an obsolete law criminalizing gay sex. The law was struck down by the Montana Supreme Court in 1997.

Wed. Update. House Votes To Ban LGBT Protections. The Montana House voted 60-30 to pass House Bill 516, which would prohibit any local government from pass anti-discrimination ordinances that includes LGBT people. 

New York

Friday: Court Rules Surviving Gay Spouse Retains Marriage Rights. Yesterday, a New York appeals court ruled that the surviving partner of a gay marriage could receive the inheritance of his male spouse, despite New York not yet having legalized marriage equality. 

North Carolina

Wednesday: Senator Files Anti-Gay Constitutional Amendment. Republican State Senator James Forrester filed a proposed constitutional amendment yesterday that would ban the recognition of any "domestic legal union" other than marriages between opposite-sex couples. The amendment will require approval by three-fights of both the House and Senate before appearing on the November 2012 ballot for public consideration. 

Wed. Update: Pam's House Blend Goes On The Warpath Pam Spaulding of Pam's House Blend isn't going to sit idly by as North Carolina pushes for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. On her website yesterday, she announced her intention to fight against those support the amendment:

Game on. We will explore every co-sponsor over the next year. The taxpayers have a right to know:

- How many times have these lawmakers been married?
- Who's breaking the sanctity of their marriage vows?
- Are there closet doors to be kicked open?
- Who's carousing for same-sex encounters at rest stops?
- Who has their hand in the till?

The voters of NC have a right to know, since these elected officials have decided that they have the right to enshrine bigotry into the state constitution on the basis of two consenting adults having any legal relationship approximating marriage, let alone civil marriage. Since Charlotte will be the host city for the Democratic National Convention, won't this be a gem of an albatross hanging over the party's neck in the "New South"? 

Rhode Island

Tuesday: Poll Shows Majority Support For Marriage Equality. In a poll released today, Public Policy Polling (PPP) found that a majority of Rhode Island voters support marriage equality. From a February 22 PPP blog post:

As the Rhode Island state legislature considers legalizing gay marriage, a majority of voters in the state support such a move. 50% are in favor of 'allow(ing) gay and lesbian couples to marry legally' compared to 41% in opposition and 9% who don't have an opinion.

Rhode Island is another state where this breaks down very much as a generational issue. Only senior citizens, by a 48/39 margin, are opposed to legalizing same sex marriage. Young voters (under 30) support it 62/31, and middle aged voters (31 to 65) favor it by a 51/42 spread. It's not going to be too long before the simple aging of the US population produces a lasting pro-gay marriage majority. The people who are opposed to it are gradually dying out and being replaced in the electorate by voters who are perfectly comfortable with it.

This poll is significant considering that the Rhode Island legislature is currently grappling with a will that would legalize same-sex marriages.

Tennessee

Wednesday: House Proposes Bill To Ban Discussion Of Sexual Orientation In School. The Tennessee House introduced a bill this week that would prohibit public elementary and middle school curricula from mentioning sexual orientation. According to a February 23 LezGetReal post:

According to the web site God Discussion, the "don't say gay bill", was been introduced as House Bill 229 or Senate Bill 49, and says, in part, "No public elementary or middle school shall provide any instruction or material that discusses sexual orientation other than heterosexuality."

GOP Sen. Stacey Campfield, one of the bill sponsors released a statement about the bill:

"It's the family's responsibility and not someone with an agenda - one way or the other. The bill is neutral. We should leave it to families to decide when it is appropriate to talk with children about sexuality - specifically before the eighth grade."

West Virginia

Tuesday: Gay Coal Miner Leads Push For Anti-Discrimination Law. Sam Hall, a gay West Virginia coal miner who is suing his former employer for on-the job-harassment, spoke at a rallyyesterday in favor of a measure that would add sexual orientation to the state's civil rights law. From a February 22 Advocate article:

Bills in the senate and house and would need to be advanced by committees before Feb. 27 in order to receive three full readings in each chamber. In 2009, the bill died in the house judiciary committee.

The West Virginia Family Foundation has vowed to fight the legislation.

According to the Associated Press, "Hall filed a lawsuit last year alleging verbal abuse and threats at several mines run by Virginia-based Massey Energy Co. The company has said it's investigating."

Wyoming

Wednesday: House Rejects Amendment To Allow For Civil-Union Recognition. The Wyoming House voted Wednesday to reject a Senate amendment to a bill that would prohibit the recognition of same-sex marriages performed out-of-state. From a February 22 NECN article:

The House version of the bill would specify that Wyoming wouldn't recognize same-sex civil unions performed in other states.

The Senate last week approved an amendment to specify that same-sex couples who enter civil unions or other formal relationships in other states would still be afforded access to Wyoming's court system to resolve any differences that arise in their relationships.

The House voted Tuesday not to accept the Senate amendment. A House and Senate conference committee will meet later to try to resolve the difference.




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