Same-sex marriage bills gaining ground in the U.S.

(image: Alan Light, Flickr)

Maryland is poised to legalize same-sex marriage, possibly in the next few weeks. A bill on the Senate floor, SB 116 (PDF), would revise Maryland’s marriage code, changing the phrase, “Only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid in this State” to, “Only a marriage between two individuals who are not otherwise prohibited from marrying is valid in this State.”

Presently, the Washington Post reports that the resolution has 24 supporters in the Senate, and if those 24 maintain their commitment to passing the bill, it will have just enough votes for passage; there are 47 state senators in Maryland. Should that happen, the Democrat-controlled House of Delegates is expected to pass the bill, and Gov. Martin O’Malley has already promised to sign it into law if it makes it to his desk. If SB 116 passes, Maryland will become the sixth state (and seventh jurisdiction overall, including D.C.) in which same-sex marriage is legal.

A similar bill has been drafted in Washington state and has quickly been gathering co-sponsors. It is currently in the Washington House Judiciary Committee, although it shares a slate with a competing bill that would amend the Washington constitution to define marriage as being between a man and woman.

Indeed, not all progress in legislatures across the country is toward legalizing marriage rights for all citizens. Of the five states in which same-sex marriage is currently legal, two are considering rolling back the law and instituting same-sex marriage bans. Iowa’s House of Representatives passed a resolution at the end of January that would allow the public to vote on banning same-sex marriage. Though Democrats outnumber Republicans in the Iowa Senate 26 to 24, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal is concerned enough about the bill’s chances that he hopes to block a Senate vote on the resolution altogether. Iowa’s House and Senate would have to approve the measure in two consecutive General Assemblies — which are two years apiece — before it could be put to referendum.

Meanwhile, Republican legislators in New Hampshire have proposed three separate bills that would repeal the state’s same sex marriage law. The House Judiciary Committee will hold public hearings this week to determine whether any of the bills will be put to the floor for a vote. Although Republicans in the state netted massive wins in the November elections, public opinion polls show that a majority of New Hampshirites oppose the repeal of same-sex marriage.

The battleground over same-sex marriage of course does not end with those states. The Indiana House on Tuesday passed a ban on gay marriage, an action that appears redundant at first glance, as Indiana already made gay marriage illegal in 2005. However, the new bill extends not only to marriage, but would insert language into Indiana’s constitution to deny legal rights to anything “substantially similar” to marriage. Constitutional amendments in Indiana must be voted on in two separate legislative sessions and then approved in a public vote.

Bridging the gap between outright bans and marriage rights for all are the civil unions bills currently being debated in several legislatures across the country. Although supporters are struggling to pass civil unions bills in Colorado and Rhode Island, a Hawaii bill approving civil unions has passed votes in the House vote and Senate. Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) has pledged to sign it into law.

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