Marriage Equality Debate Continues in New England in 2011
Marriage equality remained a dominant issue across New England in 2011.
In the Ocean State, Marriage Equality Rhode Island will continue their efforts to pass a marriage equality bill when the state’s General Assembly reconvenes next month. MERI Campaign Director Ray Sullivan told EDGE earlier this month that he expects the Ocean State to have marriage equality within two years.
A marriage equality bill was introduced earlier this year, but gay House Speaker Gordon Fox withdrew it in April because there were not enough votes for it to pass. Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed (D-Newport) opposes nuptials for gays and lesbians. Democrats control both chambers.
Fox supported a civil union bill that was introduced instead, and it passed on June 29. Governor Lincoln Chafee signed the measure into law in July.
MERI has been leading the fight to secure marriage for same-sex couples in the Ocean State for the past eight years. Members of the General Assembly have introduced a marriage equality bill every year since 1997, but the measures have never made it out of their respective committees for a vote.
2011 was a particularly tumultuous year for MERI itself, which saw the departures of several key staffers and board members. Executive Director Kathy Kushnir announced her resignation on April 25; spokesperson Bill Fischer left MERI a week later, citing he was upset at the direction of the organization that he labeled as "dysfunctional."
The organization has since rebounded with the addition of several new board members and has unveiled an ambitious 2012 legislative agenda, which includes the repeal of the Corvese amendment to the civil unions law that allows religiously-affiliated hospitals, schools and other institutions to ignore the legal standing of a civil union spouse.
The Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has condemned the civil unions law as "a complete bust." In fact, only 39 same-sex couples in the Ocean State have obtained civil unions in the six months since the law took effect.
N.H. Lawmakers Poised to Vote on Marriage Equality Repeal Bill
New Hampshire legislators intend to vote on a bill that would repeal the 2009 law that allowed same-sex couples to legally marry when they reconvene in Concord in January. A Constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman was also proposed, but state Rep. David Bates (R-Windham) announced in November that he would no longer pursue the measure.
Democratic Gov. John Lynch has repeatedly said he will veto attempts by the Republican-controlled Legislature to repeal the law, which he signed in 2009. New Hampshire enacted civil unions in 2007 for same-sex couples. Gays and lesbians have been able to legally marry in the Granite State since Jan. 2010.
Concord political strategist Michael Dennehy signed on as a lobbyist for the National Organization for Marriage, joining gubernatorial candidate Kevin Smith, who has also registered on behalf of the group. Patrick Hynes, a communications consultant in Concord, announced his July Fourth Forum PAC is planning lobby hard in support of the repeal bill.
"We are going to play heavily in the effort to restore traditional marriage in the Granite State," Hynes told EDGE.
In response, marriage equality activists have mobilized to urge lawmakers to oppose the repeal bill.
More than 200 state and local leaders have joined the bipartisan group Standing Up for New Hampshire Families. And its first ad, which features three Republicans and a Democrat, began to air on WMUR after Christmas.
Maine Voters to Again Vote on Marriage Equality in 2012
Marriage equality activists gathered enough signatures to place the issue before Maine voters in 2012.
EqualityMaine, Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders and Maine Freedom to Marry launched the signature-gathering drive in late August with the goal of placing the legalization of marriage for same-sex couples on next November’s ballot. The coalition announced that it had collected more than 100,000 signatures, well over the 57,277 signatures required for the initiative.
Betsy Smith, executive director of Equality Maine, told the Associated Press that the group will decide on a referendum in January.
Maine is the only New England state that does not offer some sort of relationship recognition to same-sex couples.
The state passed legislation in 2009 that would have allowed same sex couples to wed, but voters repealed it six months later in a statewide referendum.