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Christie Vetoes Marriage Equality; Maryland House Approves It

February 17, 2012

As expected, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie today vetoed legislation that would have made gay marriage legal in that state.  He says that marriage equality should go to the voters to decide by referendum.  Pro-equality legislators do not today have the votes to override the veto, but the way the New Jersey system works, they have until January 2014 to try.  That leaves plenty of time to persuade a few legislators to change their positions.  The New Jersey public, which favors marriage equality in recent polling, might help change some legislative minds.

Also as expected, the Maryland House of Delegates passed a marriage equality bill.  The Maryland Senate is expected to agree shortly, and Governor Martin O’Malley has promised to sign the bill.  But the bill has an effective date of January 1, 2013 – a compromise that gives opponents enough time to get the issue on the ballot this November.  As in New Jersey, recent polling shows that marriage equality supporters have the edge on opponents.

Meanwhile, the marriage equality bill recently signed into law in Washington State is likely also to go to a voter referendum.  As Californians can tell you, voter referendums are dicey.  Right-wing money and right-wing scare tactics have reliably won every state-wide marriage equality referendum ever held.  So the bottom line right now is, despite important legislative successes in marriage equality, it is entirely up in the air whether gay marriage will be legal in more states at the end of 2012 than at the beginning.

Still, this is huge progress.

Consider that until just four years ago, no state legislature anywhere had ever approved a marriage equality bill.  Gay marriage opponents could say, with some credibility, that gay marriage was a creature of judicial activism, not of the democratic processes.

Then in 2008, state legislatures started to pass marriage equality bills, and opponents couldn’t say that anymore.  Now the opponents’ line is that a change in marriage is so important that it can only be adopted by referendum.  But polling suggests that popular opinion is reaching a tipping point, and that voter referendums may no longer work for opponents.

I completely agree with those who point out that the Bill of Rights is supposed to isolate fundamental rights from politics and the democratic processes.  But that wall has already been breached.  A legislative vote on gay marriage is no less a violation of the spirit of the Bill of Rights than a public referendum on gay marriage is.

We need to start winning some of these referendums, to take that tactic off the right-wing menu.  Washington and Maryland, where the polls show marriage equality support ahead of opposition, seem like good places to start.

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