Gay Marriage: In States, A Hodgepodge Lies Ahead
The Supreme Court’s landmark rulings on same-sex marriage have energized activists and politicians on both sides of the debate. Efforts to impose bans, and to repeal them, have taken on new intensity, as have lawsuits by gays demanding the right to marry.
The court, in two 5-4 decisions Wednesday, opened the way for California to become the 13th state to legalize gay marriage, and it directed the federal government to recognize legally married same-sex couples. A federal appeals court on Friday lifted its freeze on same-sex marriages in California, saying the state is required to issue licenses to gay couples starting immediately.
But the rulings, while hailed by gay-rights activists, did not declare a nationwide right for gays to marry. Instead, they set the stage for state-by-state battles over one of America’s most contentious social issues. Already, some of those battles are heating up.
In Pennsylvania, the only Northeast state that doesn’t legally recognize same-sex couples, gay state Rep. Brian Sims, a Philadelphia Democrat, says he will introduce a bill to allow same-sex marriages. The bill may flounder in the GOP-led Legislature, but the issue is likely to be volatile in next year’s gubernatorial race, pitting GOP Gov. Tom Corbett, an opponent of gay marriage, against any of three Democrats who favor it.
In Arizona, gay-rights supporters have begun circulating petitions aimed at repealing the state’s 2008 ban on same-sex marriage by way of a ballot measure next year. With California’s ban quashed, Arizona is now among 29 states with constitutional amendments that limit marriage to one-man, one-woman unions.
Gay-rights activists and Democratic politicians in several other states also hope to repeal the bans in their states - in Oregon, Ohio and Arkansas with possible ballot measures next year, and in Nevada and Michigan with referendums in 2016.
Ohio activist Ian James of FreedomOhio said his group’s resolve to collect signatures "has been doubled" as a result of the Supreme Court decisions. And Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat who favors repealing his state’s ban, said the court action "underscores the urgency of extending the freedom to marry to all our citizens."
"Oregon has not yet lived up to the ideal of equal rights for all," Kitzhaber said.
In Indiana and West Virginia, some Republican politicians want to move in the other direction, joining the ranks of states with constitutional bans. Both states have laws that bar gays from marrying, but constitutional amendments are viewed as more durable measures that resist being overturned by litigation.
The leaders of Indiana’s Republican-controlled Legislature had deferred action on an amendment during this year’s session, opting to wait for the Supreme Court rulings. Now, with the backing of GOP Gov. Mike Pence, they say the Legislature will consider the ban in the session starting in January, possibly putting the question to voters later next year.
Micah Clark, executive director of the conservative American Family Association of Indiana, was pleased by that prospect.
"The future of marriage matters," he said. "And it belongs in the hands of Hoosier voters, not the courts, not Hollywood, and not the activists seeking to change it from what it is and always has been."
West Virginia, like Indiana, has a state law prohibiting gay marriages. Until now, though, it has not joined the parade of states taking a further step with a constitutional amendment. After the Supreme Court rulings, the leader of the large Republican minority in the House of Delegates suggested there is now an urgent need for an amendment,
"We don’t know when someone might file a lawsuit or have some other issue come up where a judge can review that," said Tim Armstead. "We need to go to the next step."
Democratic Delegate Stephen Skinner, West Virginia’s first openly gay lawmaker, disagreed. "There’s really not much reason for a constitutional amendment, except to promote discrimination and promote homophobia," he said.
National gay-rights leaders expect that lawsuits seeking to expand gay marriage rights will eventually bring the issue back to the Supreme Court in a quest for a ruling that would establish a 50-state policy.