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Jan 30, 2012: Why Voting on Rights is a Lousy Idea
Maine, Washington, and Maryland are all closer than ever to marriage equality, but the Governor of New Jersey thinks that civil rights should be put to a popular vote -- whether it's marriage today, or school desegregation in the 1950s.
There's a lot to talk about this week, so let's dive right in.
First, it's official: Maine's moving ahead with a citizen-led effort to win back marriage equality. The state has a statutory ban on marriage, but equality organizers have collected more than enough signatures to get a repeal of the anti-gay ban before voters in November of 2012. But keep an eye on the Maine legislature: they have the option to pass a repeal themselves, which would restore marriage equality without the need for a popular vote. Or they could put their own version of the bill on the ballot, splitting votes between two competing measures. Either way, it's shaping up to be a very busy 2012.
New Jersey's Senate Judiciary Committee passed a marriage bill this week, but Governor Chris Christie has promised to veto the measure. Christie said that civil rights should be put up for a popular vote. And that includes, he said, African Americans in the 1960s, who would have "been happy for a referendum on civil rights rather than fighting and dying in the streets in the South."
"Dear God. We should not be putting civil rights issues to a popular vote. To be subject to the sentiments, to the passions of the day. ... This is a fundamental bedrock of what our nation stands for."
Of course, when the United States Supreme Court ended the ban on interracial marriage in 1967, 74% of Americans would have opposed that decision. And it's been nearly a century since New Jersey put civil rights on the ballot, the last time being a 1915 referendum on allowing women to vote. Voters rejected that measure.
Maryland governor Martin O'Malley introduced a marriage bill this week, with strengthened religious exemptions that closely mirror those of the successful bill in New York. That won an endorsement from the state Bar Association. But a bill in New Hampshire would go much further, creating a nondiscrimination loophole that would allow any person or business to discriminate on any basis. The so-called "conscience" bill would eliminate protection guarantees for any group, gay and straight, male and female.
That's separate from the other anti-gay New Hampshire bill that would eliminate marriage equality. This week AFER Board Member and former chairman of the Republican National Committee Ken Mehlman, announced that he'd travel to New Hampshire to persuade Republicans that marriage equality is a fundamental freedom and a non-partisan value that all lawmakers should protect.
A hearing on Washington state's marriage equality bill drew crowds this week, and a Senate Committee voted to pass the measure to the full body. But the final vote may not come right away. As soon as the measure passes, anti-marriage activists can start gathering signatures for a referendum. Lawmakers may therefore wait until the end of the legislative session to pass the law, thereby reducing the amount of time that our opponents will have to try to overturn the measure.
Meanwhile dozens of Washington businesses have endorsed marriage equality, from giants like Starbucks, Nike, and Microsoft to local employers. And a study by the Williams Institute shows that marriage equality would bring $88 million to the state over the next three years.
In Minnesota, an appeals court gave a green light to a lawsuit that challenges that state's marriage ban. In Dallas, residents are pushing that mayor to join over a hundred others in signing a marriage equality pledge, but he's proven reluctant so far. New Mexico State Rep David Chavez has introduced a constitutional amendment that would ban marriage in state. A new survey in Texas shows 59% support relationship recognition. In Indiana, they're considering a bill that would enable lawmakers to study alternatives to marriage. And the Democratic Governor of North Carolina, Bev Purdue, will not seek a second term. That means there's likely to be a Democratic Primary in May. And that could boost turnout among voters who oppose the anti-gay constitutional amendment on the ballot. And a North Carolina lesbian couple has been found guilty of trespass for occupying a county office in protest over discriminatory marriage laws. Their punishment: a ten dollar fine, which they've promised to appeal.
These municipal sit-ins have been a tactic for a long time, usually centered around Valentine's Day. Recently I chatted with Cecile Veillard and Michael James Anderson, two San Diego activists who were arrested when they accompanied a gay couple to request a marriage license. Their trial is coming up in March. Visit youtube.com/AmericanEqualRights to watch our full interview about what happened and why they're not giving up.
And a study out this week shows what we already knew: young people are overwhelmingly in favor of marriage equality. The study from the Higher Education Research Institute shows marriage support at 71%, up from 65% just two years ago.
Those are the headlines, visit us at MarriageNewsWatch.com for more on all these stories and more, and to sign up for breaking news alerts. Visit AFER.org for more information on the federal fight to overturn Prop 8 and win full federal marriage equality. I'm Matt Baume at the American Foundation for Equal Rights. We'll see you next week.
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