Boulder won’t back down, Florida case in court and more

equalityfloridaToday in marriage equality news: A Florida attorney told a trial court the state’s marriage ban should end. Colorado’s attorney general told a county clerk to stop issuing licenses until he has a final ruling even though he favors an end to the ban. The ACLU wants to make sure licenses issued in Wisconsin are considered valid.

Florida

Florida’s marriage ban case went to court yesterday.

Attorney Jeffrey Cohen asked the judge to issue a ruling similar to those in more than 20 other cases across the nation striking down discriminatory marriage bans as unconstitutional. Cohen also pointed out that while Florida allows same-sex couples to adopt children, it still refuses to let them marry.

“It’s the right of a person to choose who they love and who they make their future with,” Cohen said. “We should not make anyone a second-class citizen.”

The judge didn’t indicate when she would rule on the case.

Colorado

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers demanded Boulder County Clerk Hillary Hall stop issuing marriages licenses.

But this isn’t an issue of liberal v. conservative. Suthers wants Hall to stop until he receives a clear ruling from the Tenth Circuit and joined Gov. John Hickenlooper in requesting the court overturn the state’s marriage ban. Hickenlooper is a Democrat and Suthers is a Republican.

Hall has refused and continues to issue licenses to same-sex couples. She began issuing the licenses immediately after the Tenth Circuit ruled Utah’s marriage law is unconstitutional. The appeals court stayed its decision, but the stay specified Utah, so Hall, along with two other county clerks in Colorado, began issuing licenses. With legal council, she said the ruling applies to Colorado, which is also in the Tenth Circuit, but the stay on the ruling did not apply to Colorado, since it specified Utah.

While Suthers would like Colorado’s marriage ban overturned, his motion to the court could stop Hall until the court issues a final ruling.

Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, the ACLU is filing a suit seeking legal recognition for the marriages of the same-sex couples who wed in the days after a federal judge overturned the state ban. Following Judge Barbara Crabb’s ruling, more than 500 same-sex couples were married. Days later, Crabb stayed her ruling, pending appeal by state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen.

Ireland

Although a date hasn’t been set, the Irish will vote on marriage equality sometime early in 2015. Should people really be allowed to vote on other people’s civil rights? According to all courts who’ve weighed in on the issue in the last year, it was wrong when voters in the early 2000s stopped LGBT rights. Does even a yes vote make this election any better?

—  David Taffet

Experts: Prop 8 ruling may dodge high court

9th Circuit panel crafts its decision striking down California amendment narrowly, avoids question of whether other states can ban marriage

Prop8

DAY OF DECISION | Supporters of marriage equality react outside the courthouse after a federal appeals court declared California's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional on Tuesday, Feb. 7 in San Francisco. (AP Photo/San Francisco Chronicle, Lea Suzuki)

LISA LEFF  |  Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — Conservative critics like to point out that the federal appeals court that just declared California’s same-sex marriage ban to be unconstitutional has its decisions overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court more often than other judicial circuits, a record that could prove predictive if the high court agrees to review the gay marriage case on appeal.

Yet legal experts seemed to think the panel of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit of Appeals that struck down the voter-approved ban on Tuesday, Feb. 7 purposefully served up its 2-1 opinion in a narrow way and seasoned it with established holdings so the Supreme Court would be less tempted to bite.

The appeals court not only limited the scope of its decision to California, even though the 9th Circuit also has jurisdiction in eight other Western states, but relied on the Supreme Court’s own 1996 decision overturning a Colorado measure that outlawed discrimination protections for gay people to argue that the voter-approved Proposition 8 violated the civil rights of gay and lesbian Californians.

That approach makes it much less likely the high court would find it necessary to step in, as it might have if the 9th Circuit panel had concluded that any state laws or amendments limiting marriage to a man and a woman run afoul of the U.S. Constitution’s promise of equal treatment, several analysts said.

“There is no reason to believe four justices on the Supreme Court, which is what it takes to grant (an appeal) petition, are champing at the bit to take this issue on,’’ University of Michigan law school professor Steve Sanders said. “The liberals on the court are going to recognize this was a sensible, sound decision that doesn’t get ahead of the national debate … and I don’t think the decision would be so objectionable to the court’s conservatives that they would see a reason to reach out and smack the 9th Circuit.’’

Lawyers for the coalition of religious conservative groups that qualified Proposition 8 for the November 2008 ballot and campaigned for its passage said they have not decided whether to ask a bigger 9th Circuit to rehear the case or to take an appeal directly to the Supreme Court.

However, they said they were optimistic that if the high court accepts an appeal, Tuesday’s ruling would be reversed.

“The 9th Circuit’s decision is completely out of step with every other federal appellate and Supreme Court decision in American history on the subject of marriage, but it really doesn’t come as a surprise, given the history of the 9th Circuit, which is often overturned,’’ Andy Pugno, the coalition’s general counsel, said in a fundraising letter to Proposition 8’s supporters. “Ever since the beginning of this case, we’ve known that the battle to preserve traditional marriage will ultimately be won or lost not here, but rather in the U.S. Supreme Court.’’

Regardless of their next steps, gay and lesbian couples were unlikely to be able to get married in California anytime soon. The 9th Circuit panel’s ruling will not take effect until after the deadline passes in two weeks for Proposition 8’s backers to appeal to a larger panel, and the earliest the Supreme Court could consider whether to take the case would be in the fall.

Judge Stephen Reinhardt, who was named to the 9th Circuit by President Jimmy Carter and has a reputation as the court’s liberal lion, wrote Tuesday’s 80-page majority ruling with concurrence from Judge Michael Daly Hawkins, an early appointee of President Bill Clinton. Judge Randy Smith, who was the last 9th Circuit judge nominated by President George W. Bush, dissented.

In tailoring the decision to apply only to California, Reinhardt cited two factors that distinguish Proposition 8 from the one-man, one-woman marriage laws and constitutional amendments in the other 9th Circuit states and that he said demonstrate that it “serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and humanity of gays and lesbians.’’

The first is that California since 2005 has granted same-sex couples all the rights and benefits of marriage if they register as domestic partners.

The second is that five months before Proposition 8 was enacted as a state constitutional amendment, the California Supreme Court’s Court had legalized same-sex marriage by striking down a pair of laws that had limited marriage to a man and a woman. California is the only state, therefore, where gays have won the right to marry and had it stripped away.

The amendment’s “singular’’ work of denying gay Californians the designation of marriage while leaving in place domestic partnerships proves that Proposition 8 deprives same-sex relationships of society’s dignity and respect, Reinhardt wrote.

“A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but to the couple desiring to enter into a committed lifelong relationship, a marriage by the name of ‘registered domestic partnership’ does not,’’ he said. “We are excited to see someone ask, ‘Will you marry me?’, whether on bended knee in a restaurant or in text splashed across a stadium Jumbotron. Certainly, it would not have the same effect to see, ‘Will you enter into a registered domestic partnership with me?’”

The opinion goes on to draw parallels between California’s same-sex marriage ban and the Colorado opinion the Supreme Court struck down on a 6-3 vote after concluding that it was based on moral disapproval of gays. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in that case, known as Romer v. Evans, and if the court agrees to take up Proposition 8, the similarities could hit the “sweet spot’’ that might persuade him to side with four other justices in upholding the 9th Circuit, said Douglas NeJaime, an associate professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

“Everyone is looking to Justice Kennedy, assuming that Justice Kennedy would not issue a sweepingly bad decision for gay rights, and yet people don’t know if he is ready to go so far as to say nationwide same-sex couples can get married,’’ NeJaime said. “I think the opinion evidences a real savviness about the posture of this case and its position in the trajectory of a national movement for marriage for same sex couples.’’

Smith, the lone dissenting judge, disagreed that Proposition 8 necessarily served no purpose other than to treat gays and lesbians as second-class citizens. He pointed out that its backers claimed it could serve to promote responsible child-rearing among opposite-sex couples, and said courts were obligated to uphold laws in the face of civil rights challenges unless they were “clearly wrong, a display of arbitrary power (or) not an exercise of judgment.’’

“There is good reason for this restraint,’’ Smith said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 10, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

BREAKING: Prop 8 ruling expected Tuesday

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is expected to rule Tuesday on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, California’s same-sex marriage ban. Below is the official announcement from the court’s public information office. Chris Geidner at Metro Weekly reports:

The long anticipated ruling is expected to address three issues: (1) whether former U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker should have recused himself from hearing the case because he is gay and had a long-time partner with whom he was not married; (2) whether the proponents of Proposition 8 have the right to appeal Walker’s decision striking down Proposition 8 as unconstitutional when none of the state defendants chose to do so; and (3) whether, if Walker did not need to recuse himself and the proponents do have the right to appeal, Walker was correct that Proposition 8 violates Californians’ due process and equal protection rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.

—  John Wright

Court won’t release videos from Prop 8 trial

LISA LEFF | Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — A federal appeals court refused Thursday to unseal video recordings of a landmark trial on the constitutionality of California’s same-sex marriage ban but said it needed more time to decide if a lower court judge properly struck down the voter-approved ban.

Siding with the ban’s supporters, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled the public doesn’t have the right to see the footage that former Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker had produced with the caveat it would be used only by him to help him reach a verdict.

Chief Judge Walker “promised the litigants that the conditions under which the recording was maintained would not change — that there was no possibility that the recording would be broadcast to the public in the future,” a three-judge 9th Circuit panel said in a unanimous opinion.

The 2010 trial over which Walker presided lasted 13 days and was the first in a federal court to examine if prohibiting gay couples from marrying violates their constitutional rights.

It was open to the public and received widespread media coverage, so the recordings would not have revealed any new evidence or testimony.

Walker, who has since retired and revealed he is in a long-term relationship with another man, originally wanted to broadcast the trial in other federal courthouses and on YouTube.

The U.S. Supreme Court forbade him from moving forward with that plan after the ban’s sponsors argued that distributing trial footage could subject their witnesses to harassment.

At the time, the 9th Circuit did not allow the federal courts within its jurisdiction to televise trials. The appeals court since has adopted rules that would permit trials to be broadcast under limited conditions.

“The 9th Circuit correctly ruled that when a trial judge makes a solemn promise, as Judge Walker did by assuring the parties that the trial video would not be publicly released, the judiciary must not be allowed to renege on its pledge,” said Austin Nimocks, a lawyer for the coalition of religious conservative groups that sponsored Proposition 8,

“To rule otherwise would severely undermine the public’s confidence in the federal courts by breaching the bond of trust between the people and their justice system,” he said.

The 9th Circuit has said it wanted to resolve the public release of the trial videos before it addresses the more substantive issue of whether Walker correctly struck down Proposition 8 on federal constitutional grounds.

The appeals court panel heard arguments about that a year ago, but does not face a deadline for making a decision.

A coalition of media organizations, including The Associated Press, and lawyers for the two couples who successfully sued to overturn Proposition 8 in Walker’s court have petitioned to have the Proposition 8 trial recordings made public on First Amendment grounds. The group maintained the ban’s backers have not proven their witnesses would be harmed if people got to see what they said under oath.

Walker’s successor as the chief U.S. district judge in Northern California, James Ware, agreed in September and planned to unseal the videos. In its Thursday ruling, the three-judge 9th Circuit panel said Ware had erred and ordered the recordings kept under seal.

“The integrity of our judicial system depends in no small part on the ability of litigants and members of the public to rely on a judge’s word. The record compels the finding that the trial judge’s representations to the parties were solemn commitments,” the appeals court said.

The panel also refused to return to Walker a copy of the recordings that Ware gave his colleague upon his retirement last year. Walker had used snippets of footage in public talks about the value of broadcasting court proceedings, but gave it back while the skirmish over the videos played out.

Gay rights advocates said they wanted to use the recordings to try to puncture political arguments used by opponents of same-sex marriage, but that Thursday’s decision would not be an insurmountable obstacle to that goal.

Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who serves on the board of the group funding the effort to overturn Proposition 8 in court, has written a play called 8 based on the trial transcript and interviews from the 2010 court fight that will premiere in Los Angeles next month with a cast that includes George Clooney, Jamie Lee Curtis and Martin Sheen.

“The fact that (the marriage ban’s backers) have gone this distance to keep the tapes from the American public, what it has done and increasingly will do, is inspire efforts that we will help lead to make sure the public knows what happened in the courtroom,” said Chad Griffin, president of the American Foundation for Equal Rights.

—  John Wright

Calif. court mulls appeal rights of Prop 8 backers

LISA LEFF | Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — California’s same-sex marriage ban endured its latest legal test Tuesday as the state’s high court grilled attorneys on whether Proposition 8′s backers have legal authority to appeal a federal ruling that overturned the voter-approved measure.

The tenor of the justices’ questioning during the more than hour-long hearing often leaned in favor of arguments by backers of the ban, who argue that the state Constitution gives ballot initiative proponents legal authority to defend their measures in court.

On that critical question, several justices noted that the California Supreme Court always has, as a matter of practice if not written policy, allowed the sponsors of ballot questions to appear before it when their measures were challenged.

“Never in any recorded (case) have proponents been denied the right to advance their interests,” Associate Justice Kathryn Werdegar noted during the closely watched arguments. “The present state of California law is we allow liberal intervention.”

The Supreme Court is examining the scope of the power afforded the official backers of ballot initiatives at the request of a federal appeals court that is reviewing a federal judge’s year-old ruling that Proposition 8 violates the constitutional rights of same-sex couples.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has expressed doubts about the ability of Proposition 8′s sponsors to challenge the lower court ruling absent the involvement of California’s governor or attorney general, both of whom agreed the ban was unconstitutional and refused to appeal.

But the 9th Circuit punted the question to the California Supreme Court earlier this year, saying it was a matter of state law. Although the appeals court still must decide for itself if Proposition 8′s supporters are eligible under federal court rules to appeal the ruling that struck down the ban, the state court’s input is likely to weigh heavily in its decision.

If the state Supreme Court says the ban’s proponents did not have standing to appeal, and if the 9th Circuit and ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately agree, it could clear the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California.

If the court holds the proponents were qualified to appeal and the 9th Circuit agrees, the appeals court would then weigh the broader civil rights implications of Proposition 8. A decision on the ban’s constitutionality is expected to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

While agreeing that the state Supreme Court has never refused to give initiative proponents a seat at the defense table, several justices quizzed Charles Cooper, an attorney for the coalition of religious and conservative groups that sponsored Proposition 8, on whether there was a difference between the court using its discretion to do so and issuing an opinion that would be binding on future courts.

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye observed that in the vast majority of cases in which initiative backers have been allowed to defend their measures, they have been “standing shoulder-to-shoulder” with the attorney general’s office, not acting on their own.

Cooper agreed that he was seeking to remove some of the court’s discretion, but said the justices could draft their guidance so it would only apply to situations, such as with Proposition 8, where state officials have refused to defend laws already approved by voters.

Theodore Olson, the attorney representing the two same-sex couples who successfully sued in federal court to strike down Proposition 8, argued that permitting initiative sponsors to step in under such circumstances would infringe on the authority of elected state officials.

“There is nothing in the California Constitution or the statutes that give private citizens the right to take on the attorney general’s constitutional responsibility to represent the state in litigation in which the state or its officers are a party,” Olson said.

“Is there any authority for the attorney general and the governor to second-guess a majority of the population?” Associate Justice Ming Chin interrupted.

Olson answered yes, explaining that the attorney general is obligated not to defend laws he or she judges to be unconstitutional.

Associate Justice Goodwin Liu, who was sworn in on Thursday and serving his first day on the court Tuesday, picked up the line of questioning.

“It seems to me the 9th Circuit has set up a hoop the initiative proponents must jump through to get to appeal,” Liu said. “Given the fact that initiative proponents clearly would have standing to appeal if this litigation was in state court … why can’t we read (the U.S. Constitution) to give the initiative proponents what they need to jump through that hoop?”

Associate Justice Joyce Kennard, who along with Werdegar was in the 4-3 Supreme Court majority that briefly cleared the way for same-sex marriages in California before voters passed Proposition 8, also questioned how the court could deny initiative sponsors the right to appeal in cases where state officials have refused to defend a law.

“It would appear to me that to agree with you would nullify the great power the people have reserved for themselves pertaining to proposing and adopting state Constitutional amendments,” she said.

Werdegar suggested that the court could tell the appeals court that it ordinarily grants initiative proponents the right to defend their measures, but stop short of establishing a new legal precedent.

The court has 90 days in which to issue its opinion.

—  John Wright

WATCH LIVE: Prop 8 hearing

As we mentioned earlier, the California Supreme Court is hearing arguments today on whether sponsors of Proposition 8 have standing to defend the same-sex marriage ban in court. The proceedings began at noon Dallas time, and you can watch them live here.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Prop 8 case back before Calif. Supreme Court; Baldwin announces Senate bid

Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin
Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin at the Black Tie Dinner in Dallas last year.

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. The California Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today on whether sponsors of Proposition 8 have standing to defend the same-sex marriage ban in court. The state Supreme Court’s ruling, due within 90 days, will help determine whether a federal court takes up the sponsors’ appeal of a decision declaring Prop 8 unconstitutional.

2. Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., formally announced today that she’s running for U.S. Senate. If she wins, Baldwin will become the first openly LGBT person to serve in the Senate. “The fact is, I’ve been honest about my sexual orientation my entire adult life,” Baldwin told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “And integrity is important in public service. But what voters are looking for is somebody who understands them, is fighting for them and won’t give up. The election is not going to be about me, it’s about the voters.”

3. LGBT activists glitter-bombed an anti-gay group from a chair lift at the Minnesota State Fair this weekend. The anti-gay group, Minnesota for Marriage, reportedly was given preferential treatment to distribute literature at the fair over a pro-equality group, Minnesotans United for All Families. Watch the glitter-bombing below.

—  John Wright

Judge mulls unsealing videos from Prop 8 trial

Judge James Ware

After Monday’s hearing, Vaughn Walker’s successor says he’ll issue written ruling at later date

LISA LEFF | Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — The legal sparring over California’s same-sex marriage ban returned to a federal courtroom Monday with a judge hearing arguments on whether he should unseal video recordings of last year’s landmark trial on the constitutionality of the voter-approved measure.

Lawyers representing two same-sex couples, the city of San Francisco and a coalition of media groups that includes The Associated Press asked Chief U.S. District Judge James Ware to make the recordings public.

They maintained that allowing people to see the proceedings for themselves was necessary to demonstrate why Ware’s predecessor, former Chief Judge Vaughn Walker, ultimately struck down the ban, known as Proposition 8, and to counter any perceptions that Walker was biased against same-sex marriage opponents from the start.

“Releasing the video would allow everyone to review and make their own judgment about what happened,” Theodore Boutrous, the couples’ attorney, told the judge.

Ware did not rule at the end of Monday’s hearing but said he would issue a written ruling at a later date.

Attorneys for the ban’s backers want to keep the videos under wraps. They argued that disseminating oral and visual recordings of the 13-day trial would be a direct violation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s position on the issue.

As the trial got under way in January 2010, the high court, on a 5-4 vote, blocked cameras from covering the high-profile case so they could be streamed live to other federal courthouses and possibly posted on YouTube.

Walker, asked the court staff to keep shooting the proceedings, but sealed the videos with the understanding that they were being produced for his own review in reaching a verdict.

“We were entitled to rely on those unqualified assurances, and we did,” David Thompson, a lawyer for the religious and conservative groups that sponsored Proposition 8, said about the move by Walker.

In taking the matter under advisement, Ware said he was torn between the desire to preserve public access to court proceedings and upholding the integrity of the courts.

“The judicial process is affected when a judge takes the position of, “I will seal this and use it only for a limited purpose,’ and then that is changed by a different judge and unsealed and used for a different purpose,” the judge said.

Walker’s ruling from last August overturning Proposition 8 as an unconstitutional violation of the civil rights of gay Californians is currently on appeal. The recordings are part of the case record before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Also before the federal appeals court is the proponents’ challenge to Ware’s refusal in June to vacate Walker’s decision. The ban’s sponsors have argued that Walker should have revealed he was in a long-term gay relationship before he presided over the closely watched trial.

Boutrous said at Monday’s hearing that the move to challenge Walker’s impartiality made it more important for the public to see the videos first-hand.

“They tried to undermine the integrity of the court by attacking the proceeding,” he said.

Ware did not seem convinced. He noted that during his 24 years on the bench, “I’ve had lots of parties attack me” and that it was up to the appeals court, not the public, to decide if Walker had acted appropriately.

Gay rights supporters already have used the written transcripts to recreate the full 13-day trial for online audiences. Next month, Morgan Freeman, Marisa Tomei and other big-name actors are scheduled to perform a dramatic play about the trial that screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who won an Academy Award for the film “Milk,” created from the written testimony.

To those who have not been following the Proposition 8 narrative closely, it therefore may not be immediately obvious why attorneys were spending their time and clients’ money fighting over the recordings as if they were the Nixon White House tapes.

Gay rights supporters claim the footage is their smoking gun, proof that arguments against same-sex marriage cannot hold up under rules of evidence sustained scrutiny and legal standards.

They want to use live segments, especially the cross-examinations to which the expert witnesses called by Proposition 8′s supporters were subjected, to nudge the American public further in its embrace of same-sex marriage, although it’s unclear what the vehicle for the snippets would be.

“There really is only one question–what do they have to hide?” said American Foundation for Equal Rights President Chad Griffin, whose group is funding the Proposition 8 case.

The Proposition 8 defense team, meanwhile, has argued that putting the trial recordings into the public realm could subject their witnesses to unwanted scrutiny in a way that written transcripts have not.

In persuading the Supreme Court to block the broadcasts, lawyers had argued that same-sex marriage opponents feared being harassed by gay rights supporters if their images were distributed widely.

—  John Wright

Debate rages over same-sex marriage in several states as polls show growing support

DAVID KLEPPER | Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island — A flurry of activity in efforts to legally recognize gay relationships or ban same-sex marriage is reminding advocates that even though polls indicate growing acceptance, the debate is far from settled in U.S. states.

Rhode Island is pondering a proposal to allow civil unions, a compromise that arose after it became clear there weren’t enough votes in the state legislature to approve same-sex marriage. Minnesota lawmakers voted to put a constitutional marriage ban on the ballot, and the mayor of New York spoke out strongly in favor of same-sex marriage as talks continue in his state.

In Rhode Island, gay marriage advocates say they’re unsatisfied with the proposal to offer civil unions, which provide many of the same legal benefits of marriage without calling it that.

“There’s a special status when you say ‘my wife,’ and civil unions don’t give that,” said Annie Cronin-Silva, of West Warwick, who married a woman in neighboring Massachusetts in 2008. “But things are changing. It’s coming. It’s just so hard to wait.”

Gay marriage is allowed in Iowa, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut and the District of Columbia. Several other states offer civil unions or domestic partnerships instead. Illinois, Delaware and Hawaii enacted civil unions this year. The debate continues to rage in several other states.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Thursday warned lawmakers in his state that they will be remembered as civil rights obstructionists if they block attempts to pass gay marriage. Opponents have committed $1.5 million to defeat the efforts, matching the amount raised by supporters.

Minnesota lawmakers voted a week ago to put a constitutional prohibition against gay marriage on the 2012 ballot. Voters in 29 states have already added similar amendments, and gay marriage supporters hope to make Minnesota the first state to reject such an amendment.

“It’s a changed debate in Minnesota and in the nation,” said Monica Meyer, executive director of OutFront Minnesota. “I’m hoping we can ride that sea change. But we know we have a very big challenge in front of us.”

Even though Massachusetts considers Cronin-Silva and her wife, Melanie Silva, legally married, Rhode Island doesn’t. They’ve had legal agreements drawn up granting rights that are automatic through marriage, such as making medical decisions in an emergency.

Civil unions could spare gay couples an expensive trip to a lawyer, Cronin-Silva said. But she said it’s no substitute for marriage.

Groups on both sides of the debate have long pointed to polls that appear to advance their agenda. But in the past nine months, several major surveys are showing a trend of increasing support for gay marriage.

A Gallup poll released this month found that a majority of Americans believe same-sex marriage should be legal. In 1996, Gallup found that only 27 percent of Americans supported gay marriage. It’s just the latest of several major surveys showing that a slim majority of Americans now support gay marriage.

“I thought for a while it might be one fluky poll,” said Gregory Lewis, a professor of public management and policy at Georgia State University who tracks public attitudes on gay marriage. “But now it’s just one after another. It does seem like this year’s polls are noticeably different even from last year.”

An ABC-Washington Post survey in March found that 53 percent of Americans support gay marriage. An Associated Press poll in August found that 52 percent of Americans think the federal government should extend legal recognition to married gay couples, up from 46 percent the year before.

Opponents note that public opinion polls in Maine and California showed majority support for gay marriage in those states, too — right before voters rejected gay marriage measures. Even in left-leaning Rhode Island, efforts to pass marriage rights stalled this year after legislators balked.

The polls show at least two factors contributing to changing attitudes.

For one, younger Americans of all political persuasions say they’re more tolerant of homosexuality than older generations.

Meghan McCain, the daughter of former Republican presidential candidate and gay marriage opponent Sen. John McCain, is one example of a prominent Republican who says the party’s opposition to gay marriage is causing it to turn off younger voters.

Madeline Koch, a 24-year-old heterosexual Republican, told Minnesota lawmakers to oppose the gay marriage amendment because it would put inequality in the state Constitution.

Second, while older Americans identifying themselves as Republicans remain firmly opposed to gay marriage, Democrats and independents appear to be changing their minds, Lewis said. The Gallup poll found that 69 percent of self-described Democrats support gay marriage, compared with 56 percent the year before.

“The generational changes don’t explain everything,” Lewis said. “There’s a fair amount of Americans who are just changing their minds.”

Gay marriage opponents concede that surveys show increased support for gay marriage. But they say polls are different from ballot questions.

“A poll is just a poll,” said Chris Plante, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage-Rhode Island. “The reality is, when people go to the voting booth they protect marriage. Legislatures including our own in Rhode Island recognize that people don’t want it.”

Plante points to similar predictions made about the demise of the anti-abortion movement after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing abortion rights. Nearly 40 years later, anti-abortion groups have successfully pushed for more restrictions on abortion throughout the U.S.

“They think the old folks will just die out and they’ll win this with the young people,” he said. “Maybe for a season. But I believe we will see young people say, ‘Wait a second. This was an awful social experiment.’ You have to take the long view.”

From the other side of the debate, New York Mayor Bloomberg also endorsed viewing it in context. A measure to legalize gay marriage in the state is being negotiated among Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders, but Cuomo has said he won’t put it to a vote until enough legislators are on board.

The billionaire mayor has lobbied Republican state senators, for whom he is a major campaign funder, but no senator has committed to switching camps.

“As other states recognize the rights of same-sex couples to marry, we cannot stand by and watch,” Bloomberg said Thursday in a Manhattan speech. “To do so would be to betray our civic values and history — and it would harm our competitive edge in the global economy.”

—  John Wright

Right-wing Liberty Institute issues action alert in support of transgender marriage ban

Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands

Daniel Williams at Legislative Queery reports that the Texas Senate has again adjourned for the day without taking up a bill that would bar transgender people from marrying people of the opposite sex. However, The Woodlands Republican Tommy Williams’ SB 723 remains on the Senate’s calendar for Thursday. The bill, a response to the Nikki Araguz case, would remove a court order of sex change from the list of documents that can be used to obtain marriage licenses in Texas.

Daniel Williams also notes that today, the right-wing, Plano-based Liberty Institute issued an action alert calling on people to urge senators to support the anti-LGBT bill. Here’s an excerpt:

Some Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender advocates, want to thwart a Texas appeals court decision and force the state to recognize their gender (for marriage purposes) as something other than what was assigned at birth, to change their gender later on in life and force county clerks to recognize the changed gender. Such an outcome will create confusion for county clerks, for the courts and no doubt will be used by the GLBT community to undermine our marriage laws, which affirm traditional marriage, between one man and one woman.

Protect traditional marriage, support SB 723.

If you haven’t already contacted your senator and asked them to oppose this bill, this disgusting action alert from the Liberty Institute should provide plenty of motivation to do so. Email your senator by going here.

—  John Wright