Reform Watch: Gay Rights Protections

The push to ensure full civil rights equality for gays marked a major milestone last week with the passage of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Though Republicans opposed the measure so aggressively they voted in large numbers against funding the national defense in order to deny the extension of federal hate crimes status to hate-based violent assaults on gay Americans, the bill passed in both houses of Congress and will be signed into law tomorrow by Pres. Obama.

The largest rally held this year on the National Mall was a gay rights rally, and liberal groups that supported the president’s campaign are pressuring him to act now to end the military’s discriminatory “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. And as more states legalize same-sex marriarge —either through legislation or court rulings—, even the Republican governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger is openly opposing the ban passed by referendum in his state.

According to Wikipedia:

  • In MassachusettsConnecticutIowa, and Vermont, marriages for same sex couples are legal and currently performed.
  • In Maine, same-sex marriages were going to begin on or around September 11, 2009, but due to a people’s veto are in flux. A vote on the issue will be on the ballot for November.
  • In New Hampshire, same-sex marriages will begin on January 1, 2010.
  • In California, same-sex marriages were performed between June 16, 2008 and November 4, 2008. The marriages that were performed during this period are still recognized.
  • In New YorkWashington, D.C. and California, same-sex marriages from other states or foreign countries are recognized but they are not performed.
  • In Rhode Island two Attorney General’s opinions suggest that same-sex marriages should be recognized, but a state Supreme Court opinion appears to contradict this position; same-sex marriages are not performed in Rhode Island.

Seven nations have so far legalized same-sex marriage nationally —Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Spain and Sweden—, but the US legal system leans more toward a patchwork of state laws and local legal rulings. Only one state has no explicit provision regarding same-sex marriage or civil unions: New Mexico. And while civil unions with rights similar to civil marriage are legal in parts of Mexico, and Venezuela, 28 states across the US have constitutional bans on same-sex marriage, with most of those also banning some forms of civil partnership. 4 of those states also have laws providing some rights and protections.

11 more states, plus Puerto Rico, have statutory bans on same-sex marriage. 4 of those states, however, provide some rights recognizing committed same-sex relationships, or even providing for a form of civil unions similar to marriage. Multiple pending federal court cases may eventually establish that such bans are unconstitutional at the national level. The next state to begin performing same-sex marriages will be New Hampshire, on the first of the year.