The Hawaii State House yesterday approved a civil unions bill by a comfortable margin. As the Senate has previously passed the measure, all that is now requited is some tinkering to reconcile the minor differences in the two versions, before it is presented to Governor Abercrombie, who has promised that he will sign it. Hawaii will then join Illinois as the second US state to approve civil unions this year.
Meanwhile both Maryland and Rhode Island have been holding hearings on bills to provide state recognition for full marriage equality. With powerful voices against, including that of the institutional Catholic Church, it is too early to predict the final outcome. I am encouraged, however, by a few straws in the wind.
In both states, public opinion polls (here) show that an absolute majority of voters support marriage equality. Catholic voters disagree with the bishops, and are also in favour.
- In Maryland, at least one Senator has reversed his position, and will now support the bill, after hearing the testimony of opponents. (He was appalled by the bigotry on display).
- Prominent clergy are speaking up in favour.
- Also in Maryland, at least one Republican has stated publicly that he will vote against his caucus, and vote yes.
In New York, Governor Cuomo has begun a strong push for gay marriage. A bill is likely to be introduced before June. Chance of success are not yet clear, although certainly the prospects are better than they were in the disaster of 2oo9.
In Colorado, a bill to approve civil unions has been introduced.
In Delaware, there are no formal moves to introduce legislation, but sympathetic legislators will be encouraged by a new poll which shows a plurality (and near majority) of voters in favour of full marriage. Presumably (although I have not checked this) support for civil unions will be stronger, and a comfortable majority support.
There are high profile initiatives under way in Iowa and New Hampshire to roll back existing equality. I would not be too concerned by the prospects. In NH, GOP legislators have already said that they will delay their plans to introduce a repeal until next year. I would be surprised if they are successful even then. As a new poll has shown this week, public opinion is strongly against repeal, and will get even stronger over the next year. In Iowa, the legislative pressure in the House is much stronger, but they will struggle in the Senate. Even if they are successful there, the constitution requires that repeal will need a second approval in both houses after the next elections as well, that is, in 2o13. That will be even more difficult. By the time repeal is finally put to a popular vote, in 2o14 at the earliest, it is likely that voters will be heartily sick of the time wastes on the measure, and will reject it - but in any case, by then the matter will probably have been resolved at federal level, by the Supreme Court.
Internationally, the main focus is on Australia, where pressure to introduce recognition of all marriages without discrimination is building steadily, and Peru, where the leading presidential and vice-presidential candidates in the coming elections have both backed civil unions. More on the international picture later.