November 2, 2009
Editorial from the NY Times
Political battles this fall in six different parts of the country could have a profound impact on whether the United States will extend the promise of equal rights to those who are not allowed to marry simply because they are the same sex as their partner.
Three jurisdictions — New York, New Jersey and the District of Columbia — seem tantalizingly close to securing legislative approval for measures ending the hurtful and unjustifiable exclusion of same-sex couples from civil marriage. But in Maine, Washington State and Kalamazoo, Mich., voters are being asked on Tuesday to strip away vital rights and protections.
The dominant Election Day battleground is Maine. Last fall, forces of the religious right backed a successful ballot measure that overruled California’s top court by banning same-sex marriage. Now those forces are trying for another mean-spirited victory with Maine’s Question 1, which, if approved, would block the legalization of same-sex marriage passed by the State Legislature and signed by Gov. John Baldacci in May. With the outcome likely to be close, a heavy turnout by voters committed to tolerance and justice is crucial.
Washington State has yet to approve same-sex marriage. But it took a positive step last May when Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a bill that granted gay and lesbian couples the state-provided benefits that married heterosexual couples have, like the right to use sick leave to care for a partner. Voters should affirm this progress by voting yes on Referendum 71.
A third initiative, in Kalamazoo, has the potential to overturn a measure unanimously approved by the City Commission barring discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, employment and public accommodations. Fair-minded voters should respond by voting yes to uphold the antidiscrimination law.
Following the election, attention will shift to New York, New Jersey and the District of Columbia, which stand a realistic chance of joining the jurisdictions where same-sex marriages are allowed.
The New York situation is particularly frustrating. Gov. David Paterson strongly supports granting same-sex couples the freedom to marry, and the State Assembly has twice passed a bill to do so. But the overdue measure has been in limbo because the Democrats who control the State Senate’s calendar keep dawdling over scheduling a recorded vote on the floor.
We do not have a precise head count. But we suspect that once the bill got to the floor, a majority of the Senate’s 62 members would recognize that same-sex marriage is a fundamental civil right. Continuing to delay a vote shows disrespect for New York citizens injured by the status quo. The time for a vote is right now.
In New Jersey, support has been building for a measure allowing same-sex marriages. Legislators should pass it during the upcoming lame-duck session. Gov. Jon Corzine has said he would sign the law.
In the District of Columbia, the City Council seems ready to approve a local law legalizing same-sex marriage in the shadow of the Capitol dome. That might prompt a Congressional attempt to tamper with home rule. But the fact that Congress has let stand a recent D.C. law recognizing same-sex marriages legally performed elsewhere gives hope that such meddling can be avoided.