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Virginia Marriage Decision Could Come This Week


By Matt Baume

We have big news in Virginia this week, as AFER nears decision in the federal case there. A new ruling in Nevada could be the key to victory. Lawsuits also advance in Florida, Michigan and Oregon, and signature-gathering starts in Arkansas.

Virginia State Attorney General Mark Herring has announced that the state will no longer defend its marriage ban in court. This is a major shift in the state’s position, and it will have a big impact on AFER’s federal lawsuit. We had a hearing scheduled for Thursday of this week, but the announcement, the court ordered all parties to file new reports about whether oral argument is still warranted. Those reports were due on Friday of last week.

Now, the court could make any number of rulings at any time. They could decide to go ahead with the hearing this Thursday. Or they could skip the hearing altogether and rule right away. We could have a decision from the court at any time, so be on the lookout for major breaking news from Virginia.

Meanwhile, Virginia lawmakers have killed a marriage equality bill. House Republicans vetoed the bill in committee last week. That means that for now, AFER’s case is Virginia’s best shot at winning the freedom to marry.

The state of Nevada has filed a brief defending its marriage ban. It’s the usual language about protecting tradition and promoting biological parenting. These justifications have been soundly rejected by other courts. And more importantly, last week the Ninth Circuit ruled in a separate case that LGBTs are entitled to a higher level of judicial scrutiny. A previous court had ruled against equality in Nevada, but with this new standard of scrutiny, our chances of victory have significantly improved.

There’s a brand new lawsuit in Florida. Equality Florida and NCLR have sued the state on behalf of six couples. A survey last week shows support growing, at 47% to 44% opposed.

The legal team in Michigan is beefing up. The ACLU and GLAD have joined the case there, with a trial slated to start on February 25th. And two cases in Oregon have now been consolidated, which will hopefully expedite a decision.

A constitutional marriage ban continues to advance in Indiana. Last week a committee approved the measure. Now it heads to the full House, and from there to voters in November.

Organizers in Arkansas have launched a signature-gathering campaign to overturn that state’s marriage ban. They’ll need tens of thousands of signatures, and repeal will go before voters in 2016 at the earliest. Polling in Arkansas isn’t great. Last year, survey found just 36% support for marriage. And a new survey last week showed 22% for marriage, 24% for civil unions, and 50% for no recognition.


  • 1. StevenJ  |  January 27, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    The Indiana House on Monday evening approved an amendment to the constitutional ban, removing the second sentence denying anything similar to marriage. It was far-reaching and a source of heartburn for some Republicans. This change in the amendment language resets the clock, so an identical amendment would have be to approved by 2016 in order to go to the voters in a referendum.

    There is still a long road ahead for Freedom Indiana and its coalition members in keeping this amendment off the ballot. Today's step shows how far Indiana has come since 2011.

  • 2. Mike in Baltimore  |  January 28, 2014 at 11:16 am

    The headline for the Indianapolis Star (one of the most conservative newspapers in the US) reads:
    'House amends HJR-3, POSSIBLY delaying referendum' (emphasis added).

    In the 1960s and 1970s, several amendments to the state constitution were sent to referendum. Not all of them passed the House and Senate twice with EXACTLY the same language. No court case determined if they were properly passed or not, as no one took the case to court. Thus no one can say with certainty if the proposed amendment means a vote by the voters in 2014 or 2016. Thus no one can say with certainty that "an identical amendment would have be to approved by 2016 in order to go to the voters in a referendum" because no one knows if the amendment MUST be exactly identical, because no court has determined whether the wording MUST be exactly identical, or just similar.

    Personally, I hope it does go to 2016 for a couple of reasons:

    1. 2014 is a mid-term election; 2016 is a Presidential election, thus generally more people vote. The more people who vote, generally the better for our side.

    2. The longer it takes for this amendment to be presented to the voters, the more time for people to drift to our side of the issue. Nationally, the first year polling found a majority of people FOR ME was in 2011. Indiana is much more conservative and backwards than the nation is, thus the more time until a vote by the state's voters, the better the prospects for the bigots against ME losing.

    There is no guarantee that it will go to 2016, however, as no court in the state has ruled if the wording of any proposed amendment to the state constitution MUST be exactly identical, or just similar.

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