Marriage Roundup: Rhode Island, Hawaii, Colorado and the Supreme Court

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It was a monumental week for equality.

Two states advanced marriage equality bills in their state legislatures, the Centennial State is considering a civil union bill and the mother of all showdowns officially got underway as attorneys filed briefs in the two cases about to be argued before the Supreme Court.

On a vote of 51-19, the Rhode Island House of Representatives, on Thursday, overwhelmingly passed legislation that would allow gay and lesbian couples to walk down the aisle. Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Cranston,) introduced the bill that would remove gender-specific language from state law, defining marriage as the “legally recognized union of two (2) people.”

The battle in Rhode Island isn’t over quite yet however. Many key Senate Democrats oppose the legislation, including Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed of Newport, Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio of Providence and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Michael McCaffrey of Warwick.

WPRI-TV reports,”it will be at least weeks and possibly months before the Senate takes up the same-sex marriage bill, Paiva Weed told reporters after the House vote when she was asked about it at an economic conference for senators.”

Meanwhile, Hawaiian State Representative Faye P. Hanohano, a Democrat from Puna, introduced legislation that would legalize same sex marriage in her state. House Bill 1109 states its purpose as “to recognize marriages between persons of the same sex in the State of Hawaii. It is the intent of the legislation to extend to same-sex couples the right to marry and to receive all the same rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities of marriage as opposite-sex couples receive under the laws of this State.”

On Top reports that ” Two more bills were filed by Rep. John Mizuno, a Democrat from Kalihi. One seeks a constitutional amendment which would extend marriage to gay and lesbian couples, while the other would put in place an amendment limiting marriage to heterosexual couples. Mizuno told the AP that he’s opposed to marriage equality but wants voters to decide the issue.”

“A bipartisan group of 15 Hawaii representatives also introduced a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to heterosexual couples. A Senate version is sponsored by Senator Mike Gabbard, a Democrat”, reports the magazine.

According to a 2011 poll, 49 percent of Hawaiian voters approve of same-sex marriage.

On Wednesday, A Senate committee  in Colorado passed a bill allowing gay couples to form civil unions in that state. The Reporter-Herold reports,”Mario Nicolais, spokesman for Coloradans for Freedom, a group of Republicans supporting civil unions, cited the movie “Lincoln” and the first Republican president’s quest for liberty. “The so-called homosexual agenda is nothing more than a desire to participate in the American dream the rest of us are already afforded,” he said.

“The outcome of civil unions this session is not in doubt: Democrats control the Senate, House and the governor’s mansion,” reported the paper.

Finally, ABC News reports,”on Tuesday, proponents of Proposition 8 — the controversial California ballot initiative that defines marriage as between a man and a woman — filed their opening briefs with the Supreme Court, urging the justices to reverse a lower court decision that struck down the state’s ban on gay marriage.”

According to BuzzFeed,”the proponents of Proposition 8 argue that there is no historic reason “for invalidating marriage as it has existed in California for virtually all of its history, as it was universally understood throughout this Nation (and the world) until just the last decade, and as it continues to be defined in the overwhelming majority of States and Nations.”

BuzzFeed also reports that,’The House Republican leadership Tuesday filed a brief in the Supreme Court urging the Supreme Court to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act as constitutional, arguing that the Obama administration “abdicated its duty to defend DOMA’s constitutionality” in February 2011 and instead started “attacking” the law in court.”

“The House Republican leaders argue that laws classifying people based on sexual orientation should not be scrutinized more closely by courts, as is done with other types of laws under the Constitution’s equal protection guarantees, because “the histories of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, sex, and legitimacy are different,” reports the site.

The court is scheduled to hear arguments in both cases next month.

Showdown: Supreme Court Sets Dates for Marriage Equality Cases

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The nation’s highest court has announced that it will hear two days worth of oral arguments in two separate cases that challenge anti-marriage equality laws. Both cases could make sweeping impacts on marriage laws in all fifty states.

The first case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, is a direct challenge to California’s discriminatory Prop 8 law forbidding same-sex marriages. It was filed on behalf of two couples by attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies in May 2009. Last February, the Ninth Circuit court of Appeals upheld U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker’s 2010 ruling declaring Prop 8 unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in the case on March 26th.

The second case, United States v. Windsor, challenges the federal government’s denial of benefits to legally married gay and lesbian couples under a law known as the Defense of Marriage Act.

According to the Kent College of Law, “The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), enacted in 1996, states that, for the purposes of federal law, the words “marriage” and “spouse” refer to legal unions between one man and one woman. Since that time, some states have authorized same-sex marriage. In other cases regarding the DOMA, federal courts have ruled it unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment, but the courts have disagreed on the rationale.”

Scotusblog reports that the judges will be deciding,”(1) Whether Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violates the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws as applied to persons of the same sex who are legally married under the laws of their State; (2) whether the Executive Branch’s agreement with the court below that DOMA is unconstitutional deprives this Court of jurisdiction to decide this case; and (3) whether the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the United States House of Representatives has Article III standing in this case.”

The Justices will question lawyers for each side at hearings scheduled to last an hour each.

Look for high court rulings, on both cases, sometime before the end of June.

As Wedding Bells Ring Out in Maryland, Attention turns to Illinois and Rhode Island

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New Year’s day marked yet another milestone in the fight for marriage equality, Maryland officially became the first southern state in the U.S. to legalize same-sex marriage.

The states of Washington and Maine also came on board in recent weeks, bringing the total number of states offering marriage equality to nine.

The smoke hasn’t cleared yet, either.

Illinois, the fifth largest state, with a population of almost thirteen million people, is likely about to become the tenth state to allow same-sex marriage.

According to The New Yorker,”advocates had planned to hold a State Senate hearing on the legislation as soon as later today, January 2nd, and the bill could be voted on by the full chamber on Thursday, January 3rd. The State House of Representatives would then have through Wednesday, January 8th, to pass the bill during the lame-duck session. Advocates are confident that they have the votes in the State Senate and feel that they are “within striking distance” in the House.”

WGN-TV reports that a procedural delay held up the committee from hearing the bill earlier today, but backers are hoping they’ll be able to move forward tomorrow as legislators convene in Springfield.President Obama lent his endorsement for the bill on Saturday. White House spokesman Shin Inouye told the Chicago Sun-Times,“While the president does not weigh in on every measure being considered by state legislatures, he believes in treating everyone fairly and equally, with dignity and respect.”

Meanwhile, the Rhode Island House of Representatives could be holding hearings on the issue “within weeks and voting on the matter by the end of the month.”

A spokesman for House Speaker Gordon Fox tells The Associated Press that a bill to allow same-sex couples to marry in Rhode Island was expected to be filed Wednesday or Thursday.

Of course, the major showdown is yet to come, with the Supreme Court announcing that it would enter debate by taking up two separate cases.

According to the New York Times,” One of the cases, from California, otherwise known as Prop 8, could establish or reject a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. The justices could also rule on narrower grounds that would apply only to marriages in California.

The second case, from New York, challenges a federal law, known as DOMA, that requires the federal government to deny benefits to gay and lesbian couples married in states that allow such unions.”

In light of the court’s decision to hear the cases, LGBT binational couples across the country, “have begun filing green card petitions and fighting to have them put on hold — that is, neither denied nor approved — until the Supreme Court rules on DOMA.”

Huffpost’s Brynn Gelbard and Lavi Soloway report that,”The DOMA Project first called for this “abeyance” policy as soon as the White House announced that it would no longer defend DOMA, but the campaign really picked up steam last week when it became clear that a final judicial resolution will come from the Supreme Court by June of next year.”

Must See TV: Dustin Lance Black’s “8” To Be Streamed Live this Saturday

Brad Pitt George Clooney, Martin Sheen, Kevin Bacon, Jane Lynch and a whole bunch of other stars are coming to your favorite computer this Saturday night for a free live performance of the real life courtroom drama over marriage equality.

Based on actual trial transcripts of the Perry v. Schwarzenegger case, which successfully challenged California’s discriminatory Prop. 8 marriage ban in federal court, it maybe the closest we can get to seeing the civil rights showdown, thanks to a recent court ruling.

According to a press release from the American Foundation for Equal Rights,”In a court of law, where truth and facts matter, equality and love triumphed over prejudice and fear. Now everyone will be able to see what happened during the historic Prop. 8 trial.”

“By using the actual trial transcripts intertwined with the powerful personal stories of the two couples challenging Prop. 8 in court, Dustin Lance Black’s play demonstrates why no American should be denied the fundamental freedom to marry the person they love.”

According to Huffington Post,””8″ began as a one-night-only benefit in New York City last September — starring Morgan Freeman, Rob Reiner and Marisa Tomei, among others — but has since announced national plans, including this reading in Los Angeles and dozens of productions across the U.S. where gay marriage battles are underway, including Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire and North Carolina.”

“For the Los Angeles reading, Clooney and Sheen star as plaintiffs’ lead co-counsel David Boies and Theodore B. Olson, respectively, the attorneys known for opposing one another in Bush v. Gore. Pitt will star as United States District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker, who found Proposition 8 unconstitutional during its public trial,” reports the website.

Black, who won an Academy Award for his inspiring screenplay “Milk”, also narrated 2010’s 8: The Mormon Proposition, which detailed the LDS church’s involvement in Prop 8. He also wrote the screenplay for last year’s “J. Edgar.”

“8” will stream live on Saturday, March 3rd at 8:45 p.m. MST. To pre-register for the free webcast, CLICK HERE.

Washington’s Marriage Equality Bill Advances to Full Senate

The Senate Government Operations, Tribal Relations and Elections Committee approved a bill that would legalize same gender marriage in the state of Washington on a 4-3 party-line vote yesterday.

According to the Seattle Times,”It’s not clear when the full Senate will take up the measure, Senate Bill 6239. Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, the bill’s prime sponsor said he’s pushing for a vote next week, but doesn’t know if that will happen.”

The hearing wasn’t without interesting moments. “Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, attempted to add a provision that would send the gay-marriage law to voters, arguing “a change this significant in long-standing state law … requires more than a simple majority vote of the Legislature,” reports the paper.

Benton’s amendment, as well as four other republican amendments, were defeated.

As we reported earlier this week, the bill is expected to pass the legislature. Gov. Chris Gregoire has said she’ll sign the legislation.

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