8 Top Prospects for Expanding Marriage Equality

By Julie Bolcer

Originally published on Advocate.com November 20 2012 6:26 PM ET

Delaware: Advocates successfully aimed for the passage of civil unions legislation in 2011, but the surrounding landscape has quickly shifted to favor a marriage equality push in 2013. Voters in neighboring Maryland upheld the marriage equality law in a referendum, while Vice President Joe Biden, who hails from Delaware, nudged the national conversation – and President Obama –when he expressed his support in a television interview this past May. Governor Jack Markell has called the enactment of marriage equality in his state “inevitable.”

Hawaii: A win in Hawaii would be hugely symbolic, being the place where a preliminary state Supreme Court decision allowing for the possibility of same-sex marriage in 1993 sparked Congress to respond three years later with the Defense of Marriage Act. Voters later amended the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage, but a federal lawsuit challenging the ban has recently been appealed to the Ninth Circuit. Governor Neil Abercrombie has refused to defend the ban. Hawaii currently has a civil unions law. 


Illinois: Marriage equality legislation has so far failed to advance in the home state of President Obama, but a number of factors cause advocates to believe the time has arrived to move beyond the recent civil unions law. Democrats won a super-majority in last month’s elections, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, a prominent member of the Mayors for the Freedom to Marry coalition, has prioritized the issue. Governor Pat Quinn supports the legislation and exit polls from election night showed a majority of voters support marriage equality. Separately, a lawsuit in state court is challenging the state law banning same-sex marriages.


Minnesota: The defeat of a proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage last month already has advocates thinking about next steps. Buoyed by Democratic control of the legislature and the governorship for the first time in decades, the door appears to be open for an expansion of marriage equality in the Midwest. However, some lawmakers still need to be won over, and there is debate about how a marriage equality conversation would interact with the upcoming work on the budget.


New Jersey: New Jersey may have the nation’s toughest anti-bullying law, but it trails its larger neighbor New York when it comes to marriage equality. Governor Chris Christie vetoed legislation passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature last year, saying that voters should decide the issue in a referendum. Although polls show a majority of voters support marriage equality, advocates refuse to put civil rights to a vote, not to mention the expense of a referendum campaign, so they plan to find enough Republican lawmakers to override the governor’s veto before the session ends in early 2014. The wave of recent marriage equality victories could be persuasive to some legislators, and perhaps even Christie, a Republican who is said to be eyeing a presidential run in 2016. Advocates also have a lawsuit in state Superior Court claiming the civil unions law does not give same-sex couples the same protections as married straight couples.


Oregon: The success of the marriage equality referendum in neighboring Washington boosts confidence in Oregon, where the first step would be to repeal a constitutional ban passed by voters in 2004. That could happen as soon as 2014, when advocates  may take the issue to the ballot. Rep. Tina Kotek, who is expected to become the first out lesbian to lead a state legislative chamber next month, has expressed an interest in that timing, and Democrats have regained control of the legislature, which is viewed as positive for the prospective campaign. Any effort would be helped by a favorable outcome to the Proposition 8 challenge before the Supreme Court, which could reinstate marriage equality in California and provide a jolt to the Western region. 


Colorado: An attempt to pass civil unions legislation died in the Republican-controlled House last year, prompting advocates to push for and win Democratic control of the chamber this year. Incoming House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, who is openly gay, expects to see the measure signed into law by Governor John Hickenlooper. Then, advocates can begin work on overturning the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage passed by voters in 2006.


Rhode Island: The last state in New England without marriage equality. Advocates are sure to make a push in 2013. House Speaker Gordon Fox, who is openly gay, said he would bring the bill to a vote next year. The obstacle is Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed, but recent elections brought more marriage equality supporters to her conference and she is sure to feel more pressure to allow a vote on the bill.