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The Freedom to Marry Breaking Out All Over!

44% of the US population lives in a freedom-to-marry state.
44% of the US population lives in a freedom-to-marry state.
James Esseks,
Director, LGBTQ & HIV Project,
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May 22, 2014

Marriage in Oregon and Pennsylvania. Respect for existing marriages in Utah. Plus a new marriage lawsuit in Montana. From coast to coast, and several places in between, the ACLU has been propelling the marriage movement forward. Here’s a round-up of what we’ve accomplished this week (so far!):

Oregon: On Monday, a federal trial judge ruled in an ACLU lawsuit that Oregon must allow same-sex couples to marry. The state isn’t appealing – the Attorney General joined us in challenging the marriage ban – so Oregon is now the 18th marriage state. The anti-gay National Organization for Marriage (NOM) tried unsuccessfully to intervene in the case and tried to get an emergency stay of the decision, but the federal appeals court ruled against them. Couples are now marrying all over the state, and I’m betting that there is no way NOM can ever turn this around. Oregon is solidly in the marriage column.

Pennsylvania: On Tuesday, it was Pennsylvania’s turn. In another ACLU lawsuit, a federal trial judge struck down Pennsylvania’s marriage ban as well, and Governor Corbett announced on Wednesday that he too would not appeal. So PA makes it 19. At the heart of the case is Maureen Hennessey, a widow who lost her spouse and partner of 29 years, Mary Beth McIntyre, a year ago last Sunday. Maureen quit her job to help Mary Beth through a four-year struggle with stage 4 lung cancer, and they got married in Massachusetts before Mary Beth died. But Pennsylvania’s marriage ban meant that Mary Beth was identified as “never married” on her death certificate; instead of being listed as the “surviving spouse,” Maureen was listed as the “informant.” Maureen lent her name and her story to this fight, and she’s clearly made a difference. Check out this moving video of Mary Beth and Maureen.

Utah: Also on Monday in yet another ACLU case, a federal trial judge in Utah ruled that the state must respect the existing marriages of the approximately 1,000 same-sex couples that got married in the “window” period between the federal court ruling last December 20, 2013, declaring that Utah’s marriage laws violate the federal constitution, and January 6, 2014, when the United States Supreme Court stayed that ruling. Utah has taken the position that while those couples had indeed gotten legally married, the state would not treat them as married going forward. This has caused serious problems for many families, including stopping them from being able to complete adoptions of their children. In Monday’s ruling, the judge concluded that once a couple is lawfully married – which was true for all of the couples married in the window period – they’re lawfully married, and the state is not free to disregard their status.

Montana: Yesterday, the ACLU filed another lawsuit, this time challenging Montana’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples. The lead plaintiffs are a lesbian couple who met on a softball field. “It’s a cliché,” Angie Ronaldo jokes. “My first up to bat warming up, I hit a foul ball right into her car. Pretty sure it was the universe connecting us.” They’ve been together ever since and now want to get married. We’re going to make that possible, with help from the Montana governor, who is on our side.

The progress this week adds up to quite an overwhelming momentum. With the victories in Oregon and Pennsylvania, 44 percent of the U.S. population now lives in a freedom-to-marry state. That’s up from 16 percent less than 18 months ago. Let the wedding bells ring!

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