LGBT Marriage Comes to Maine, Maryland
Voters in Maine and Maryland yesterday approved ballot measures that will bring same-sex marriage to the states, the first time in history the issue has won a popular vote. The result of a third such ballot question in Washington state is still pending.
In Minnesota, voters rejected a ballot measure that would have written a ban on gay marriage into the state constitution, though the practice remains illegal under state law.
Maine had previously passed a law sanctioning LGBT marriage, but it was rolled back after the people voted the law down in a 2009 ballot initiative. Maryland and Washington both passed similar laws this year, and needed them to survive the will of the people via ballot in order to be valid.
No state had ever approved same-sex marriage through a ballot initiative before. Prior to 2012, states had asked residents to vote on LGBT marriage questions 32 times, including in Maine, and all 32 times citizens voted it down or voted to ban it outright by defining marriage as being between one man and one woman.
Before yesterday’s election, only six states, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont, as well as Washington D.C., granted marriages to same-sex couples. In each case, marriage equality was reached through legislative action or a court decision.
Another 11 states (including Washington and Maine) offer civil unions or domestic partnerships that provide some or all of the legal benefits associated with marriage.
The Coquille and Suquamish Indian tribes will also marry same-sex couples.
Federal Recognition Next?
Same-sex couples could get more good news from Washington D.C. in upcoming months, considering that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) banning federal recognition of same-sex marriage was twice struck down by federal courts this year. Sometime this term the U.S. Supreme Court will make the final decision on the law’s constitutionality, potentially opening up tax perks, social security benefits and other federal privileges tied to marriage to LGBT couples who have been legally married in states that allow the practice.
Public sentiment on the issue has shifted dramatically in recent years. A recent Pew poll found that Americans support gay marriage by a 48-44 margin, after decades of polls showing that a majority of citizens opposed it.
The newly re-elected President is on board with marriage equality as well. Barack Obama had previously instructed the Department of Justice to no longer defend DOMA in court, and earlier this year voiced his support for the right of LGBT couples to get married. The official Democratic platform also now supports marriage equality for the first time. Obama’s Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, had stated his opposition to gay marriage but the issue barely came up during the presidential campaign.
With a sympathetic president now set for another four years in office, plus the historic votes in Maine, Maryland and Minnesota (and potentially Washington), the long fight for basic legal rights for LGBT couples has taken several dramatic steps forward.
Would you support federal marriage equality? Share your opinion by leaving a comment below.