The new year brings new legislative sessions in most states along with new opportunities and challenges for the freedom to marry. With the election of pro-marriage governors in Maryland, New York, and Rhode Island, there are key opportunities to win marriage in those states. Each of those states currently honors marriages performed in other jurisdictions. In New Hampshire, where we’ve already won marriage, NOM has reared its anti-gay head.
In Maryland, changes in the state Senate have improved prospects for passing a marriage bill. Governor Martin O’Malley has stated several times that he will sign a bill into law if it reaches his desk. Equality Maryland, the state’s largest LGBT civil rights organization, is leading efforts to pass a marriage bill in the legislative session that begins January 12. Freedom to Marry staff is working with Equality Maryland to assist with communications and online efforts, with two of our staff members currently in the state.
In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo used his inauguration address to call on the legislature to "pass marriage equality this year once and for all." In 2009, the Senate voted down a marriage bill that had already been passed by the assembly – but new members and growing public support could lead to a different outcome this legislative session. Groups including Empire State Pride Agenda, Fight Back New York, and Marriage Equality New York worked hard in the last election cycle to replace anti-marriage legislators with pro-marriage legislators. Freedom to Marry is working with organizations in the state to support their efforts to win marriage in New York.
In Rhode Island, marriage bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate. Governor Lincoln Chafee used his inauguration speech to voice support for the bills, highlighting the potential economic benefits more weddings would bring to the state. Freedom to Marry is working with Marriage Equality Rhode Island to build public and legislative support for the bill. NOM, resorting to its usual anti-gay tricks, has pledged to spend $100,000 on a television ad campaign promoting marriage discrimination. The ads call for a referendum on the issue, despite the fact that a pair of polls in the past 18 months found that some 59% of Rhode Islanders favor the freedom to marry.
In New Hampshire, large electoral gains by Republicans in the House and Senate have placed the state’s marriage law in jeopardy. Governor John Lynch has said he would veto a measure to repeal the marriage law, but Republicans have enough votes for an override. Lawmakers might also pass an anti-marriage amendment, although that would require approval by two-thirds of voters – and polls have long shown that a majority of New Hampshire residents support marriage equality. Freedom to Marry is working with New Hampshire Freedom to Marry and other groups to defend marriage for gay and lesbian couples.