Marriage equality support gains traction in state legislatures

Gay marriage supporter outside the Minnesota State Senate chamber. The push is on in many states to approve same-sex marriage. Photo by Tom Morris/WikiMedia.


Minnesota:  The new Minnesota Legislature is making its debut as lawmakers gather in St. Paul for the 2013 session.  There are 57 new members of the Legislature. That's more than normal because of a DFL (the Democratic Farmer Labor party which is the Democratic party in Minnesota) sweep in the last election and more retirements than usual.  With Democrat Mark Dayton in the governor's office and new DFL majorities in the House and Senate, the party will fully control state government for the first time since 1990.  Following on the victory in the 2012 election defeating an anti-gay-marriage amendment, the legislature will possibly include a push to legalize gay marriage.

Delaware:  State lawmakers are gathering in Dover DL Tuesday to convene a new legislative session. Issues expected to surface this year include gun control and gay marriage. Gov. Jack Markell, who signed a bill recognizing same-sex civil unions in Delaware starting a year ago, says he expects lawmakers to take the next step this year to legalize gay marriage.

Indiana: Indiana's General Assembly got off to a quick start Monday with Republican leaders promising to focus on workforce development and Democrats seeking a two-year moratorium on divisive social issues. Republicans control both houses of the legislature and the governorship.  New House Minority Leader Scott Pelath emphasized that among Democrats' priorities is a request to avoid divisive social issues like gay marriage and abortion for the next two years. But House Speaker Brian Bosma rebuffed the call for a moratorium, saying the term "social issue" is highly subjective.

"We aren't declaring a moratorium on anything. That hasn't been my normal custom to make those types of decisions on behalf of the body," Bosma said. How social issues will be handled, including an effort to write the state's ban on gay marriage into the state constitution, remains a looming question.

Illinois: Highly touted but abruptly halted action in the Illinois Senate last week set the tone for a roller coaster lame-duck legislative session of escalating hopes, discouraging dips and resurgent optimism continuing Sunday. But Senate President John Cullerton said a focus on the prominent but risky issues of gay marriage and gun control wasn't a waste of time, even though supporters hoped they would win Senate support and move to the House.

Why couldn't Senate Democrats — who are on the verge of becoming more powerful, perhaps, than at any time in Illinois history — push through progressive legislation in a lame-duck session, when departing lawmakers feel free to vote as they please?  "Passing gay marriage and passing major gun control bills is always going to be very, very tough," Cullerton said in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday.

New power, national momentum in favor of gay marriage, and public encouragement from President Barack Obama convinced supporters the time was right. But legislation stalled after a committee sent it to the floor, not because of inattention to legislative language or too great a focus on counting votes, Cullerton maintained.  "Did we waste time by doing this exercise? Absolutely not," he said. Committee hearings "flushed out the opposition" on where Democrats could improve the bills.

Facing defeat, Cullerton abruptly adjourned Thursday and canceled Friday's meeting. The issues aren't dead; Democrats merely pulled them back for further work after hearing GOP opposition, Cullerton said.

Colorado: Democrats want to revisit proposals blocked by Republicans in 2011 and 2012 — especially civil unions for same-sex couples and giving illegal immigrants who grew up in Colorado a break on tuition at state schools. Democrats are expected to pass civil unions for same-sex couples early in the session, granting gays rights similar to marriage. House Republicans blocked legislation last year with a filibuster one day before the session concluded in May. That contentious ending prompted a special session in which Republicans defeated civil unions again, energizing gay rights activists who supported Democratic candidates in November.

Rhode Island:  In any other New England state, Chelsea Leyden could marry the woman she's been with for more than two years. But not in Rhode Island. Leyden hopes this is the year that distinction disappears. "I want to get married where I was born and raised," said Leyden, of Cranston. "My family is here. I don't want to have to go to Massachusetts."

With gay marriage bills introduced in the state's General Assembly and the House Speaker calling for a vote this month, Rhode Island again finds itself a battleground in the national debate over same-sex marriage. Supporters eager to capitalize on recent gains elsewhere in the nation tell The Associated Press they're optimistic Rhode Island could be the next state to allow gay and lesbian couples to wed.

The momentum has longtime supporters in Rhode Island feeling optimistic about their chances this year. "There's a wave and we should ride it," House Speaker Gordon Fox said the day after the November election. Fox has called for the House to vote on gay marriage before the month's end.

Groups opposed to gay marriage are ready to play defense. Chris Plante, director of the state chapter of the National Organization for Marriage, said he expects a "hard battle."

Gov. Lincoln Chafee, a gay marriage supporter, said he's eager for Rhode Island to join the rest of New England in allowing gay marriage. He said he believes it's not only the right thing to do but could help improve the state's image and even its economy. He said he knows people, gay or straight, might elect to settle in another New England state because of the state's policy towards gay marriage.

"We want to be very inclusive, welcoming everybody," said Chafee, an independent. "And in particular (to the) creative, energetic people that so often are associated with the gay community."

Rhode Island now recognizes gay marriages performed elsewhere because of an executive order Chafee signed last year. The state also allows same-sex couples to create civil unions, but so far few couples have signed up.


Compiled from various AP stories.  Associated Press writers Tom Davies. Ivan Moreno and Kristen Wyatt contributed to this report from Indianapolis and Denver.