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Washington Approves Same-Sex Marriage

February 12, 2012

Tomorrow Washington State will become the seventh state (plus Washington, D.C.) to legalize same-sex marriage – not counting California, where same-sex marriage was legal for a few months in 2008, and not counting the native Coquille and Suquamish tribes of the Pacific Northwest.

The legislation becomes effective 90 days after the legislature adjourns, which has to happen no later than March 8.  Opponents of marriage equality have until the effective date to collect 120,577 signatures on a petition to require a voter referendum to “veto” the law.  With major backing from national anti-equality advocates, there is every reason to expect this issue to go to a popular vote in November.  I haven’t seen any recent polling for Washington State, but I’ll post it when I do.

With Washington State joining the club, subject to the outcome of the voter referendum, almost 14 percent of Americans will live in jurisdictions where it is legal for same-sex couples to get married.  Gay marriages are legally performed in ten countries and parts of three others (including the United States).  Same-sex marriages are legally recognized, but cannot be performed, in all or parts of four additional countries.

Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight has tracked trends in American opinion on gay marriage over the years.  The trend has been favorable to gay marriage, and the rate of change has been relatively brisk.  In Silver’s most recent trendline post, on April 20, 2011, the trendlines crossed and opponents fell into the minority for the first time.

Next up are New Jersey and Maryland.  The New Jersey legislature has scheduled votes on marriage equality legislation for February 13 in the senate and February 16 in the general assembly.  Democrats hold substantial majorities in both houses, so the prospects for passing marriage equality legislation look pretty good.  But Republican Governor Chris Christie has promised a veto, which Democrats probably won’t be able to override.  Meanwhile, like other anti-gay politicians before him, Christie is pushing for a voter referendum on the question, calculating that a referendum is a rougher road for marriage equality than legislative action.  At some point Nate Silver’s trendlines are going to overtake this tactic.  And in fact, marriage equality is popular in New Jersey.

Maryland Democrats hold even bigger legislative majorities, and Democratic Governor Martin O’Malley is in favor of marriage equality.  A bill is pending in the state senate, and the legislature is like to vote before adjourning on April 9.

Assuming the bill passes, a referendum is likely.  But a Gonzales Research poll last month showed that a slight plurality of Marylanders favor marriage equality legislation, although the poll also showed that the ardor of the opposition is slightly greater than that of the proponents.’  A slightly more optimistic Washington Post poll found that Marylanders favor marriage equality by 50 – 44.

If both New Jersey and Maryland enact marriage equality legislation, 18 percent of Americans will live in jurisdictions where same-sex marriages can legally be performed.

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