November 23, 2010

Midterm Elections Renew Same-Sex Marriage Debate

The 2010 midterm elections renewed discussions about civil unions and same-sex marriage laws in several states, including Hawaii, Minnesota, Illinois and Iowa.


The election of Democrat Neil Abercrombie as governor of Hawaii may make it more likely that a bill legalizing civil unions for same-sex couples could become law in the state, according to the Associated Press. Hawaii’s House and Senate passed a measure in early 2010 that would have legalized civil unions for same-sex couples, but Republican governor Linda Lingle vetoed the legislation in July. During this year’s gubernatorial campaign, Abercrombie repeatedly said that if he was elected and the legislature passed a similar bill, he would sign it, the AP reported. After the election, Alan Spector, the co-chair of Hawaii Equality, a gay rights organization, told the AP, “There’s no reason for us to believe that we can’t pass the bill again.”


The GOP takeover of both houses of the Minnesota legislature may make it less likely that a bill in favor of same-sex marriage will pass during the next legislative session, the AP reported. Tom Prichard, president of the Minnesota Family Council, which opposes same-sex marriage, told AP that the group is trying to get a constitutional referendum banning gay marriage put to a statewide vote in 2012. In Minnesota, amendments to the state’s constitution must be proposed by the legislature and then put to a vote among the state’s electorate. Although Minnesota state law already defines marriage as between a man and a woman, supporters of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage say the law needs additional protection in the constitution to make it more difficult to overturn in court, the AP reported.

Earlier this election cycle, Archbishop John Nienstedt mailed a video to Catholics in Minnesota urging them to support traditional marriage, ABC News reported (see the Pew Forum’s Election News Brief, “Catholic Leaders in the Midwest Take on Same-Sex Marriage Debate”).


A measure legalizing civil unions for same-sex couples could be passed in Illinois before the end of this year, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Democratic Governor Patrick Quinn, who supports the measure, was re-elected and the Democrats retained majorities in both state legislative bodies. In an interview with the Daily Herald, Gov. Quinn called himself a “strong advocate for civil unions” and said he believes there are enough votes in both the state Senate and House to pass such a bill.


On Election Day, Iowa Supreme Court Justices David Baker and Michael Streit, as well as Chief Justice Marsha Ternus, were removed from office by a yes or no ballot measure, the AP reported. In 2009, they joined in a unanimous decision that legalized same-sex marriage in the state, ruling that an Iowa law restricting marriage only to heterosexual couples violated the state’s constitution, according to The New York Times. Several media outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, cited this ruling as the primary reason they were voted off the bench.

This is the first time judges have been removed by popular vote since Iowa instituted judicial recall in 1962, the AP noted. Several national groups were involved in the campaign to vote out the justices, including the American Family Association, the National Organization for Marriage and the Family Research Council, the Iowa Independent reported. After the judges were voted out of office, David Lane, the executive director of AFA Action, the political arm of the American Family Association, told the AP the group would support similar campaigns in the future if necessary, saying, “For those who impose what we perceive as an immoral agenda, we’re going to take them out.” The three justices who were voted out issued a joint statement after the election saying that the “preservation of our state’s fair and impartial courts will require more than the integrity and fortitude of individual judges, it will require the steadfast support of the people,” the Des Moines Registerreported.

According to recent polls by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 42% of Americans favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, while 48% oppose it. This shows an increase in support for same-sex marriage since last year: polls conducted in 2009 found that 37% of the American public favored allowing same-sex marriage and 54% were opposed.

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