Same Sex Marriage State-wide Legal Update: NJ, WA, MD, ME
The ongoing attempts of same-sex marriage advocates continue to result in positive political support. Most notably, the New Jersey General Assembly this past week has shown great will in trying to sign the “Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act” into law.
On Thursday, February 16, 2012, the democratic-controlled assembly passed the Marriage Equality Act in a 42-33 vote. The bill redefines marriage as a legally recognized union between two consenting adults. It further stipulates that “no religious society, institution or organization in this State shall be required to solemnize any marriage in violation of the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment.” In this way, the legislature seeks to protect religiously conservative citizens, while also honoring the equality rights of gays and lesbians.
As expected, on Friday, February 17, 2012, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie promptly vetoed the Marriage Equality Act stating that the issue must be decided by the citizenry in a state-wide referendum.
Interestingly, the last referendum to take place in the Garden State was in 1915 and was to grant women the right to vote. That referendum, by the way, was defeated. It took another five years for the state Legislature to ratify the 19th amendment.
Now, nearly a century later, the tension of a monumental civil rights movement builds once again. The shared opinion among assembly members who support same-sex marriage is that it is a civil rights issue at its core. After the veto on Friday, assembly speaker Sheila Y. Oliver passionately stated, “For us in the legislature, we are bound to promulgate civil laws that provide all citizens in our state with equal protection under the law.”
The Legislature has an opportunity to override Govern Christie’s veto, and plans to do so.
This would be a huge success for those in favor of marriage equality. Since 2007, same-sex couples have been able to have civil unions in New Jersey. Having a civil union, however, is fundamentally different than being married.
Fortunately, the kind of effort being made in New Jersey can be seen across the country.
Just last week, Washington State Governor Chris Gregoire approved a bill legalizing gay marriage which will take effect in June, if it is not overturned by a referendum.
Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley introduced a bill this month to legalize same-sex marriage which was approved by the legislature. The Governor expects to sign the Civil Marriage Protection Act into law on March 1, 2012 and opponents and supporters of same-sex marriage say they expect to see a referendum as well.
In Maine, there were twice the number of needed signatures gathered on a petition allowing the issue of same-sex marriage to be placed on the ballot this November.
Back in 2009, Maine passed legislation recognizing same-sex marriages, yet the bill was revoked after a statewide referendum. The polls at that time showed that it was a close call, as the bill was only defeated by three percent of the vote. Voters are rallying again to settle the issue, and this time marriage equality advocates are expected to be victorious. This is especially exciting because up until this point, no U.S. state has ever approved same-sex marriage in a referendum. The votes will be cast in November, 2012.
Ellen S. Fischer of the Law Office of Ellen S. Fischer has been working closely with individuals and families throughout the greater Philadelphia region for more than 20 years. Ellen received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Temple University and returned to earn a Juris Doctor degree from the Temple University School of Law. Ellen serves on a number of leadership committees and is a member of Gay and Lesbian Lawyers of Philadelphia (GALLOP). In addition to LGBTQ services, Ellen's practice areas are family law and personal injury.