March 30, 2009

Vermont was the first state to outlaw slavery. Neighboring New Hampshire declared its independence from England before any other colony. Maine led the way with Prohibition.

These days, Yankee activism has another cause -  gay rights. Two states in New England already allow same-sex marriage, and lawmakers in three more are considering it, although passage is far from certain.

To some, the push is emblematic of a live-and-let-live ethic and burnished by gradual acceptance of gay relationships after Vermont's groundbreaking civil unions law took effect in 2000. Others see it as a targeted effort by a vocal minority that has turned to the Northeast because its message can't get traction elsewhere.

Only Massachusetts and Connecticut permit same-sex marriage. California, which briefly allowed it before a voter initiative in November repealed it, allows domestic partnerships, as do a handful of other states.

New Jersey and New Hampshire also offer civil unions, which provide many of the same rights that come with marriage. New York recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, and legislators there and in New Jersey are weighing whether to offer marriage. The Iowa Supreme Court has heard arguments on a marriage equality suit.

But for now, the focus on legal recognition of gay relationships has returned to northern New England.  Maggie Gallagher, president of the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes gay marriage said "There is not an easy way to get the issue on the ballot and before the voters so that it can be decided directly by the people," said  and is underwriting a radio campaign against it.

"Therefore, it is more a creature of special interest politics and legislative dealmaking. These are small states which can be influenced by fairly large amounts of outside money coming in. And it's very hard for regular people to feel that they can have a voice on this issue in these states."

The voices on both sides are growing louder:

--New Hampshire, which enacted a civil unions law last year, moved a step closer to legalizing gay marriage Thursday when the state House of Representatives voted in favor. The state Senate still must vote, though, and the governor _ who signed a civil unions bills last year _ opposes it.

-- The Vermont Senate has approved a similar measure, but the House has yet to vote. Gov. Jim Douglas vowed Wednesday to veto the bill if it reaches him, spurring a protest that drew about 300 people to the Statehouse on Friday. Protesters say they'll push to get enough votes in the Legislature for a veto override.

-- In Maine, a bill to legalize gay marriage has nearly 60 co-sponsors in the Legislature. Gov. John Baldacci, who opposes gay marriage, says he hasn't taken a position on the measure.

Beth Robinson, who leads the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force, says the close proximity of the New England states has allowed people to see for themselves that civil unions work and gay marriage should be allowed to. Massachusetts got same-sex marriage in 2004. She says, "It's a lot harder for someone who lives near Massachusetts to say that the sky's going to fall if we share the same sky. Someone halfway across the country might not see that.".

Another supporter is Stan Baker of Shelburne, Vt., whose marriage equality lawsuit led to Vermont's first-in-the-nation civil unions law nine years ago. He told the Associated Press, "Many of our states have really championed civil rights, social justice and freedom issues and understand that when one person's rights are denied, it affects all of us."

New Hampshire state Rep. Ed Butler, a 59-year-old Democrat who obtained a civil union last year with his partner of 30 years, said the bill there has big hurdles ahead. He says that many people want it. "At least in New Hampshire, there's a strong libertarian streak _ respect of individual rights and respect for your neighbor. If you are a good and contributing member of your community, then people see no reason to deny you what seems reasonable."

Opponents contend that the measures don't have popular support, saying that gay rights measures are nearly always defeated at the polls. Amendments to ban gay marriage were approved in November in Arizona and Florida. Now, 30 states have gay marriage bans in their constitutions.

Michael Heath, executive director of the Maine Family Policy Council, which opposes same-sex marriage, said lawmakers out of touch with real people are the ones pushing same-sex marriage.  He said, "I think it's because the politicians up here have become more left-leaning. I have experienced a significant disconnect between the public in Maine and the politicians on the issue of gay rights."

Well, Duh! In California, New York, New Jersey and throughout New England, liberalism prevails!  And where liberalism is, same-sex marriage lurks around the corner.  I would go so far as to say that by the time Barack Obama finishes his first (and I hope and pray will be his only) term, DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) will be brought before the Supreme Court and civil suits will be brought before Federal District Courts in many states urging the recognition of same-sex marriages performed in one state to be recognized and legitimized in all states.  If Barack Obama gets a second term and gets the chance to appoint a replacement for either Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia or one of the other younger conservatives, then the Supreme Court will decide the fate of all the other states whose legislators and voters want to keep marriage between a man and a woman only.  And it won't be to the favor of traditionalists.

Next stop, forcing churches to allow same sex couples to utilize their buildings and pastors to perform such marriages.  The loss of tax exemption for churches and fines and jail time for pastors will be on the table!

We believe that the Constitution of the United States speaks for itself. There is no need to rewrite, change or reinterpret it to suit the fancies of special interest groups or protected classes.