2009 was a year of highs and lows for supporters of same-sex marriage.
Marriage ups and downs: Despite some recent setbacks, marriage equality made some incredible advances in 2009. Five states passed marriage equality, although Maine voters repealed their law in November before it went into effect. Other partnership and recognition laws also passed.
Just as Massachusetts was about to celebrate five years of marriage equality, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire and Vermont allowed gay and lesbian couples to marry.
In April, Connecticut lawmakers passed a marriage equality law with bipartisan support. On April 23, Jodi Rell, the state’s Republican governor signed it into law.
In Iowa, six same-sex couples sued for the right to marry in 2005. Three lower courts ruled in favor of allowing same-sex marriage. The state Supreme Court heard oral arguments in December 2008. In April this year, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in favor of the right to marry. Same-sex couples began marrying in Iowa on April 27.
The ruling was not considered surprising in a state that was one of the first to eliminate the ban on interracial marriage, desegregate schools and recognize the rights of married women. Iowa was the first state outside the east or west coast to offer any statewide recognition of same-sex relationships.
When Vermont became the first state to create civil unions in 2000, it was an historic breakthrough. Just days after the Iowa ruling, the Vermont legislature upgraded civil unions to marriage. On Sept. 1, couples were able to apply for marriage licenses.
The New Hampshire legislature passed a civil union bill in 2007, which took effect in January, 2008. On June 3 this year, after negotiations with the governor on wording of the bill to exempt religious institutions, the upgrade was signed into law, and is set to go into effect on Jan. 1
When the governor of Rhode Island said he would veto any marriage equality law, progress on legislation in that state came to a halt. However, Rhode Island recognizes marriages performed elsewhere.
In New York, the state Assembly passed a marriage equality bill three times. At the beginning of December, when the bill moved to the Senate, it failed by a surprisingly wide margin. An executive order from Gov. David Paterson, however, remains in effect. That order, which has been upheld by three courts, recognizes same-sex marriages performed out of state.
The next week, the marriage debate moved to New Jersey. Working under a deadline of change in administration, a marriage bill was debated in a Senate committee. Jon Corzine, the current governor, said he would sign a marriage equality law. Chris Christie, who defeated Corzine in November and takes office on Jan. 15, said he would veto the bill. The bill was not passed along to the full Senate but sent to the Assembly after sponsors could not get enough support for passage.
The state has had civil unions since 2007. As part of that legislation, a commission was set up to study whether same-sex couples were receiving rights equal to opposite-sex couples. More than half of the first 1,000 couples getting civil unions in the state filed discrimination complaints.
In Washington, D.C., marriages performed elsewhere were recognized after an ordinance passed the city council by a 12-1 vote in May. Although Congress has 30 days in session to review and reject any laws passed in D.C., they did not and the law stood.
With that first success, openly gay Councilmember David Catania decided to bring full marriage equality before the council. That law passed on Dec. 15 with an 11-2 vote. Mayor Adrian Fenty signed the law on Dec. 17 at Covenant Baptist Church in southwest Washington. The law will go into effect early next year as long as Congress does not prevent its enactment.
Maine turned out to be a repeat of California.
On May 6, the governor of Maine signed a marriage equality bill into law after it passed both houses of the legislature. A petition drive through the summer placed the issue on the ballot in November and the law was repealed by slim margin.
The same day that Maine’s marriage law was repealed, Washington state voters passed an everything-but-marriage law. That legislation gives same-sex couples all the rights of married heterosexual couples that are granted by a state, but calls the marriage a domestic partnership.
The Nevada legislature passed a domestic partnership law, which the governor vetoed. Although Nevada passed a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage earlier in the decade, a gay state senator obtained a legal ruling that a domestic registry was not the equivalent of marriage. Along with pressure from the casino industry, which feared a boycott by the LGBT community, the legislature overrode the veto with a two-thirds majority on May 31. Despite the constitutional marriage ban, Nevada partnerships have all the protections on a state level that marriage has.
During the 2009 legislative session in Wisconsin, a law passed giving same-sex couples some limited rights and protections through domestic partnerships.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 1, 2010.