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Love Is in the Air: Update on Efforts to Expand the Freedom to Marry

A person holding a sign reading "Yay!" in rainbow letters.
A person holding a sign reading "Yay!" in rainbow letters.
James Esseks,
Director, LGBTQ & HIV Project,
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February 14, 2012

I know it suddenly seems like marriage is breaking out all over, even though what we’re seeing is the product of long-planned campaigns. It’s getting hard to keep up with all the good news, so here’s a quick guide to what’s happening with efforts to expand marriage for same-sex couples on the ground now and what’s in store for us during the rest of 2012.

Washington State: Gov. Christine Gregoire signed the new marriage law yesterday, making Washington the seventh state in the country (plus D.C.!) to open marriage to committed same-sex couples. The law goes into effect on June 7, but if marriage opponents gather enough signatures before then, the law will be suspended pending a referendum on the November ballot asking whether voters approve of the marriage law. The ACLU of Washington is a leader on the steering committee of the Washington United for Marriage campaign, and lobbied hard for the marriage bill.

New Jersey: The state Senate passed a marriage bill yesterday, and the Assembly is expected to vote for it on Thursday. Gov. Chris Christie has vowed to veto the bill, but we and our allies have almost two more years to gather the votes to override that veto, and we’re committed to making that happen. The ACLU of New Jersey has been lobbying for the marriage bill in Trenton and has gotten ACLU members out in force.

Maryland: The House of Delegates held hearings last week on a marriage bill supported by Gov. Martin O’Malley. Here, as in Washington, if the marriage bill passes, there’s a real chance that the issue will end up on the ballot in November. The ACLU of Maryland is on the steering committee of Marylanders for Marriage Equality, and has hired organizing staff to help with the campaign. Laura Murphy, who is legislative director for the national ACLU, testified in favor of the marriage bill before the House of Delegates.

Maine: Back in 2009, the Maine legislature passed a freedom to marry law and the governor signed it, but the law was narrowly rejected by the people at the ballot that fall. Now we are putting the issue back on the ballot in November 2012. The ACLU of Maine is on the executive committee of the Why Marriage Matters Maine campaign, and is hiring organizing staff to team up with partner organizations.

Minnesota: We face a bad marriage amendment in Minnesota, which is on the ballot in November 2012 and would bar marriage for same-sex couples. The ACLU of Minnesota is a member of the Minnesotans United for All Families coalition and is working to educate the state about the freedom to marry.

North Carolina: In May 2012, we’re facing an even worse amendment to the state’s constitution that would ban marriage or other forms of relationship protection for same-sex couples. The ACLU of North Carolina is on the steering committee of the Coalition to Protect North Carolina Families, and has hired organizing staff to help fight the amendment.

These contests are all important. We stand to win the freedom to marry in as many as four new states this year, catapulting us from six to 10 marriage states in one year. As important, we have a real chance to win marriage fights at the ballot box, which we have managed to do only once in the past (Arizona in 2006, and that lasted only until 2008, when we lost at the ballot again). A ballot box win alone would change the national debate and would reinforce the polls showing growing majorities across the country that support marriage for committed same-sex couples. Finally, expanding the number of marriage states is the best way to help the Prop. 8 lawsuit succeed if it gets before the Supreme Court.

All across the country, the ACLU is proud to join with our allies and help lead the struggle for the freedom to marry.

As you celebrate Valentine’s Day today, please take the time to help other couples and families have their love and commitment recognized. Call your legislators if marriage is before your state’s legislature, or support the campaigns where marriage will be on the ballot this fall. Clearly, love is in the air. Help us keep the momentum to expand the freedom to marry going strong.

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