Marriage Rights Predictions for 2009
January 2nd, 2009
2008 was an exciting year – with both highs and lows – for marriage equality. But the upcoming year is likely to be exciting as well. Here are a discussions and some projections about the direction of marriage equality in 2009.
Of course, my crystal ball is probably no better tuned into the future than yours, but here are my guesses and some states to watch.
California: In March, the California State Supreme Court will hear arguments as to whether Proposition 8 is a valid amendment to the state constitution.
The relatively close margin on the vote coupled with the dominance of political positioning in opposition to the amendment will provide the court with the sort of political cover that could allow them to judge in favor of equality. Further, as the state moved from a 61.4% opposition in 2000 to a 52.3% in 2008, jurists may hesitate to uphold an initiative that can predictably be contrary to the wishes of the majority of Californians within the next few years.
Additionally, there is little threat of voter reprisal for three of the justices who ruled favorably on In Re Marriage Cases. Carlos Moreno and Kathryn Werdegar are not up for a confirmation vote until 2014 and Joyce Kennard is safe until 2018. Chief Justice Ronald George is due for confirmation in 2010, but as he is already Enemy Number One to anti-gay activists it’s unlikely that this will weigh much in his decision.
Interestingly, Ming Chin – a dissenting vote on marriage in May – may feel pressure from two fronts in his consideration of this case. Chin is up for confirmation in 2010 and it would be naïve to think that he is not aware of the political backlash and massive organization that resulted from the outcome of Proposition 8. I think he is aware that his decision, either way, will engender a movement to oppose his confirmation. Additionally, Chin, as an Asian American, may recognize that the stripping of fundamental rights – whether or not he initially supported them – from a protected minority can establish a precedent that has long legs and severe consequences.
This is difficult to call, but I think that I will cautiously predict that the CA Supreme Court finds that a fundamental right cannot be removed from a suspect class by means of a majority vote. I will go so far as to say that I would not be surprised to see a greater than 4-3 split on this issue.
Should, however, the Court rule against equality, be prepared for state-wide protests and for the creation of a political machine to collect signatures to get a reversal amendment on the ballot in 2010 as well as to deny reconfirmation of Supreme Court Justice Ming Chin.
Iowa: The state Supreme Court heard arguments this month on whether the state’s ban on same sex marriage is unconstitutional. They should announce their decision at some point within the first half of the year.
Although a Midwestern agricultural state, Iowa is not necessarily conservative. And the Supreme Court has a tradition of early progressive action. The notions articulated in California’s In Re Marriages about fundamental rights and suspect class may feel comfortable to Iowa justices.
I’m not making a call on this one. But should equality prevail, there is no initiative process in Iowa. Those seeking to overturn the decision would either have to rely on a constitutional amendment occurring by means of a majority vote in two consecutive legislatures (unlikely with the current Democrat legislature) and a popular vote in 2012 at the earliest. Alternately, the citizens could vote for a constitutional convention in 2010, which is rather unlikely.
New York: This state is situated to be the first state to voluntarily select marriage equality, should it so choose. The state Assembly has already voted favorably and the Governor is supportive; the only glitch is a handful of Democratic Senators who are seeking to hold up the confirmation of the Democratic Senate Leader in order to oppose marriage equality and advance their own political profile.
I predict that ultimately Senator Smith will become the Senate Majority Leader. And I think that the shenanigans of Senator Diaz have not endeared him to Smith or many in the Democratic Caucus. No doubt some Senators would like nothing better than legalizing gay marriage and conducting the first one on the sidewalk outside Diaz’ house.
However, with Diaz and two others (at least) balking, marriage equality cannot be achieved in New York without some Republican support. Interestingly, this comes at a time when the G.O.P. in the state is seeking to shed it’s anti-gay image. Currently, Log Cabin Republicans are active in both NYC and in the Hudson Valley and several Assembly Republicans voted in favor of marriage last year. And their relationship with the Party has been improving recently.
So while Dean Skelos, incoming Senate Minority Leader, will not support the effort, opposition to the bill will not be in the form of fiery homophobia and there will not be threats of reprisals against any Republican Senators that break rank and support marriage equality.
Frankly, I don’t think that New York has the votes in the Senate. And there may be reluctance on the part of legislators and the gay community to jump before enough votes are committed. So even though the Democratic Party ran on the issue of passing marriage equality in the Senate and even though much of the change in power came from gay support, I think we should not expect marriage in New York in 2009.
One factor that may influence this, however, is the action of New York’s neighbors (see discussion below). Should a New England state move to marriage equality, that might be a bit influential and supportive. But if it looks like New Jersey will legalize marriage, state pride may push New York legislators to twist arms and get this on the books.
New Hampshire: The state has had Civil Unions for a year and already there are expressions of discontent and a move to legalize full marriage. Last week, State Rep. Jim Splaine, D-Portsmouth, submitted a bill to legalize marriage.
However, Governor John Lynch opposes this effort and even if those who voted for civil unions all favor marriage, they do not have the votes to override a veto.
I predict that this bill will not make it to the floor for a vote.
Vermont: This state has had civil unions for eight years with no discernable negative consequences. A commission reported in April 2008 that marriages would provide many tangible and intangible benefits that are not achieved through civil unions. While this came too late for action in 2008, there will be a vote in 2009 whether to legalize marriage.
Governor Jim Douglas has stated his opposition to the bill but he’s not indicated whether he would veto the legislation or allow it to become law without his signature.
My guess is that this legislation will stall, eventually pass, but be vetoed by the Governor. But a public outcry in favor of marriage could result in Douglas passively letting the bill become law.
Maine: There is a relatively below-the-radar movement to bring marriage equality to a vote in the Maine Legislature in 2009. Whether or not successful, anti-gay activists are likely to try for a constitutional amendment in 2010. I have no predictions on this.
New Jersey: New Jersey has had civil unions for two years. But a commission released this month reported that civil unions were not adequate to address the needs of gay couples and recommended that marriage be instituted. A poll in August 2008 found that over half of New Jersey residents prefer marriage equality and nearly 60% would be accepting of the decision if the legislature were to enact gay marriage, especially if the commission recommended the change.
Governor Jon Corzine responded to the report by stating that marriage should be legalized in the state “sooner rather than later”. Legislative leaders are saying that the issue is a matter of “when” and not “if” marriage equality would be legislated. They may be seeking to feel the direction of the political wind as all of the legislators and the Governor are up for election in 2009.
Working towards equality, the NY Times editorialized on the 20th that New Jersey politicians should live up to their principles.
I tentatively predict that the legislature will vote early in 2009 for marriage equality.
New Mexico: In 2008 the Senate Judiciary Committee tabled efforts to pass a Domestic Partnership bill which had passed the state House. However, efforts may have more favorable conditions in 2009.
The New Mexico Independent is reporting that HB21/SB12, a bill to provide all the rights and responsibilities of marriage to registered partners, will be considered shortly after the legislature reconvenes in later this month. The success of this bill will depend to a great extent on Senate committee assignments.
I predict that this measure will pass and that Governor Bill Richardson will sign it into law.
Other states: I predict that some states other than those listed above will address marriage or couple recognition. Perhaps Washington will act on marriage or a Plains State will provide a domestic partnership or other registered benefits scheme. Alternately, emboldened by Proposition 8, some anti-gays may begin efforts to pass constitutional bans in other states.