Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Same-Sex Marriage: Progress Report

Short version: In Connecticut, it isn't just a good idea; it's the law, as of last week. In New Hampshire, both houses have approved bills legalizing same-sex marriage; the House is expected to approve what the Senate passed, and it's soon going to be up to the governor, who is iffy. In Maine, a bill made it out of committee; both houses may vote on it as soon as next week, and the governor's stance is unknown.

Some details:

• Connecticut    Last week, Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell signed into law a bill that formally legalizes same-sex marriage. This new law will also cause the existing civil union law to expire in October 2010; all existing civil unions will automatically convert to marriages. (h/t: Roy Edroso)

Civil unions had been legal starting in April 2005. (Connecticut was the first state to pass such a law without being told to by a court.) In October 2008, the state's Supreme Court declared the civil union law unconstitutional and as a consequence of that decision, same-sex marriage became officially legal starting on 10 November 2008. I'm not sure of the details, but it appears as though the latest news amounts to formalizing and codifying the judicial result. However, it does strike me as worth noting that we now have two states (Vermont was the first) where same-sex marriage has been legalized through the legislative process.

• New Hampshire    Today, the state Senate voted to approve same-sex marriage. The state House approved a different bill last month, and must now vote on the Senate's version; it is expected to pass it.

It is less clear what Gov. John Lynch will do. He is on record as opposing the use of the M-word while favoring civil unions. He has not said whether he will veto the bill. He may let it pass without signing it. If he does veto it, the narrowness of the winning margins in both houses of the legislature suggests they won't be able to override a veto. If you'd like to urge Gov. Lynch to do the right thing, visit his contact page.

• Maine    A bill to legalize same-sex marriage easily passed the Joint Judiciary Committee today. It now goes to the state House and Senate for a vote, which may happen as soon as next week. Gov. John Baldacci has not said where he stands on the bill. He, too, has a contact page.

• Religious issues    Both the Connecticut law and Senate version of the New Hampshire bill had language added at the last minute to provide legal protection to churches and other religious organizations that don't want to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.* This is being claimed as a "major religious liberty victory" by the NOM-nom-nomers.

My considered reaction is: Whatever.

In both cases, the language speaks of reaffirming existing law, which strikes me as the right way to put it. I think a given religious organization ought to be able to have its own rules about eligibility of a couple to be married within its own bailiwick. This seems well within the bounds of what "freedom of religion" means to me, identical in spirit to, say, a church refusing to conduct a marriage ceremony for previously married (straight) persons. Members of a religious organization who object to that organization's refusal to perform a marriage ceremony are free to find another place to worship or to agitate for change from within. I don't think they should be allowed to sue or otherwise bring the machinery of the state down onto the religious organization in this regard.

I also don't think there are a whole lot of same-sex marriage supporters who want to compel priests, etc., to perform marriage ceremonies against their will. I'm sure there are a few gay couples for whom this is important, and I hope they can find another place that's more welcoming, if it's really that important to them. But generally, if the opponents want to crow about this bit of face-saving, I say, let 'em. My guess is that, over time, fewer and fewer churches will refuse to perform marriage ceremonies for two women or two men, whether because they'll come to realize what "all God's children" really means, or more pragmatically, because they'll realize they're alienating more of their congregations by opposing rather than embracing.

* If you're interested, here are the most recent versions of the official text of the Connecticut and New Hampshire bills that I could find. I can't be sure that these are the final versions, but both have them have the religious protection portions included.

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