January 7, 2013
By Matt Baume
An exciting start to the year, with a win and a setback in Illinois. Two brand new marriage bills are on the fast track in Rhode Island. And a Congressional bill to repeal DOMA has picked up two more Republican endorsements, but one of them doesn’t quite count.
We’re starting the year with some fast-moving developments in Illinois. Organizers there tried and failed to pass a marriage bill before the end of the previous legislative session. Although it didn’t come to the full floor, the bill did pass a vote in the Executive Committee.
That’s an important milestone that adds to bill’s momentum in the new session, which starts January 9. Democrats hold a majority in the Illinois legislature, but votes may cross the expected party lines on this issue. For example, Pat Brady, the chairman of the state Republican Party, has urged passage of the marriage bill, albeit as a private citizen and not in his capacity as chair.
The bill could be introduced at any time in the new session, and it’s likely going to be a very close vote. If you live in Illinois or know anyone who does, now is a crucial time to get involved. Visit Equality Illinois at EQIL.org for more info.
Meanwhile, legislators in Rhode Island have introduced marriage bills in both chambers. Representative Gordon Fox expects the bill to reach a full House vote by the end of this month. If it passes the House, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed will allow a Senate Judiciary Committee vote. She has opposed marriage equality in the past. That committee vote would be followed by a full Senate vote. And then the signature of Governor Lincoln Chaffee, who supports the freedom to marry.
Minnesota is also likely to tackle marriage this year, but not right away. Organizers there have said they’ll wait until some economic issues can be settled before introducing marriage bills. Estimates are that they’ll appear in late spring.
While those states move towards equality, marriages have started in Washington, Maryland and Maine. We don’t have a tally yet on the number of licenses issued, but couples were lined up at midnight in both states.
Of course, those state marriages still can’t be recognized by the federal government due to the Defense of Marriage Act. House Republicans have authorized additional spending to defend the anti-gay law. The US Supreme Court will hear challenges to DOMA and to Prop 8 in its current term, and could overturn both.
But in case DOMA isn’t overturned, Congress is working on a legislative repeal, known as the Respect for Marriage Act. This week that bill picked up two important endorsements, both from Republicans. Representative Richard Hanna is a first-term legislator from New York, and he told The Advocate, “The federal government has a responsibility to ensure all legally married couples are treated equally under federal law.”
The second legislator is Representative Charles Bass of New Hampshire. Or at least, he was a representative. Bass endorsed the Respect for Marriage Act after losing his re-election and only a few days before the end of his term. But even though he’s now out of office, it’s noteworthy that DOMA repeal continues to build Republican support. Bass will be replaced in the House by Democrat Ann Kuster, a strong ally to the LGBT community.
All of these situations, particularly in Illinois, are likely to change very quickly in the coming days. Subscribe here on YouTube and at AFER.org for breaking news alerts. We’ll also have the most up-to-date information on the upcoming arguments before the Supreme Court.