by Jeremy Leaming
While some lawmakers and politicians are working to end a few of the nation’s inequalities, like the one centering on the right of gays and lesbians to wed, others are keeping up the ignoble work of trying to hobble or defeat efforts to advance equality.
For example, in many of the states where marriage equality is advancing, special interest groups have mounted, or in the midst of doing so, campaigns to ensure that government recognition of marriage belongs exclusively to men and women.
After Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire enacted marriage equality legislation, social conservatives promised to gather enough signatures to place the newly gained civil liberty before the voters. N.J. Gov. Chris Christie has endorsed placing civil liberties before the voters when he vetoed a bill allowing lesbians and gays to wed. (Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker took issue with Christie’s tactic, saying equal rights should never be placed before the whims of the majority.)
Religious right groups are also promising to topple the effort by Maryland to allow same-sex marriage. The Maryland Marriage Alliance, which calls itself a an “interfaith coalition dedicated” to keeping marriage an exclusive institution, has promised to launch a petition movement to place the law before voters, provided it passes the Maryland Senate and is signed by Gov. Martin O’Malley, both highly likely. The Maryland Senate passed a similar measure last year, and O’Malley (pictured) has said he would sign the new measure. The governor has also upped his involvement this time around – he’s sponsoring the equality legislation that is moving through the legislature.
Following the approval last week by the Md. House of Delegates, O’Malley applauded the outcome, saying the chamber had “voted for human dignity.”
The marriage alliance, a gathering of primarily evangelical Christian groups, issued a press statement decrying the House’s vote as undermining the exclusive definition of marriage and noting, “thankfully,” that the state “allows for a referendum process by a people’s vote, and we are committed, if needed, to bring this issue to the vote of the people of Maryland.”
Like the law enacted last year in New York, the Maryland marriage equality measure includes a provision granting an exemption for houses of worship to refuse to marry lesbians and gays. The Maryland Senate is expected, The Washington Post reports, to promptly take up the equality bill. The newspaper says the senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee and the full chamber “quickly could approve the bill” with the possibility of sending it to O’Malley by week’s end. The state is moving quickly to become the eighth one to allow lesbians and gays to wed, joining Washington, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Iowa. The District of Columbia also recognizes same-sex marriage.
Like the scene unfolding in Maryland, religious right groups are mobilizing a referendum effort against the Washington marriage equality law. One of the more colorful opponents of Washington’s marriage equality law is a group dubbed USA Christian Ministries, whose leader the pastor Steven Andrew has called for Christians nationwide to boycott Starbucks, headquartered in Washington, because of the coffee company’s support of the law. His website also includes a tract on “What God Says About Sexual and Homosexual Sin,” as well as a document claiming to contain quotes from the “Founding Fathers … About Homosexual Sin.”
Despite the socially conservative religious groups’ heated opposition to marriage equality, other Christian groups have slowly, if not painfully, moved toward embracing equality for gays and lesbians. As noted by Matt Smith for The New York Times, in recent memory “mainline Protestant denominations – which are different from evangelical Christian churches that read the Bible as literal truth and emphasize a personal relationship with Jesus – have one by one changed the rules that had prohibited marriage and ordination of gays and lesbians.”
While the president evolves on the question of same-sex marriage, his administration, as The Huffington Post reports, continues to push forward efforts to advance equality for the LGBT community. Attorney General Eric Holder said Friday the administration would cease defending policy that bars same-sex couples from military and veterans benefits. Such policy is found in the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act,” the anti-same-sex marriage law enacted during the Clinton administration.
In a letter to the House Speaker, Holder said the “legislative record” of the federal policy “contains no rationale for providing veterans’ benefits to opposite-sex couples of veterans but not to legally married same-sex spouses of veterans. “
The conclusion was similar to one the Ninth Circuit reached in striking California’s Proposition 8, the narrowly approved voter initiative stripping gays and lesbians of marriage equality. The Ninth Circuit concluded, in part, that California had no justification for yanking civil liberties from a group of people.
[image via MDGovpics]