Gay marriage again dominated news in 2006
analysis by Bob Roehr
The status of LGBT relationships absolutely dominated the news throughout the year, with some development popping up virtually every week. While much of what occurred on marriage was discouraging, just about everything short of using that word seemed to be to be positive.
The toehold of marriage equality continued to hold in Massachusetts, where efforts by social conservatives to amend the state constitution were stymied by the hard political work of LGBT advocates and their allies. A number of political foes were picked off in the Massachusetts Democratic primary and the number of pro-gay politicians continues to inch upwards.
The biggest change in the coming year will be that Governor Mitt Romney – who has made anti-gay rhetoric the centerpiece of his pitch to social conservatives in his bid for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination – will be succeeded by Democrat Deval Patrick, a leading advocate of equality for gays. Survival of marriage seems assured.
Neighboring Connecticut had enacted civil union legislation the year before that offered all of the benefits of marriage to gays but not the name. In July, a judge ruled that was sufficient; "The equal protection clause does not forbid classification." That ruling is under appeal.
Courts in New York, Washington state, and New Jersey issued legally similar rulings, smashing the hopes of those who long for full marriage equality but pushing those legislatures toward increased protections for gay relationships through civil unions and similar measures.
New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine signed a civil union law last week, following its passage by the legislature.
Maryland's highest court heard similar arguments in December, but after the experience in other state courts, LGBT advocates were reluctant to get their hopes up. Most expect another ruling that grants most of the substance but not the language of marriage equality.
California remains the big prize. A series of laws over the years have granted nearly all of the state rights and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples. In 2005 the legislature even passed a gender-neutral marriage bill, but it was vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who argued that the matter was before the courts.
Openly gay state Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) earlier this month introduced his same-sex marriage bill for a third time; the legislature is expected to take up the issue next year.
In July, a three-member appeals panel overruled a trial court judge who had found it a violation of the state constitution to discriminate against gays on the issue of marriage. The California Supreme Court announced last week that it would hear the matter, which stems from San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's 2004 decision to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Nationally, the effort to amend state constitutions to ban gay marriage, and often, other forms of legal protection for same-sex relationships, appears to be losing momentum. LGBT advocates and allies succeeded in keeping such measures off the ballot in about 10 states.
Eight states voted on such amendments in November, down from 11 two years ago. In seven states the votes passed those amendments, though by margins that were smaller than what was seen two years earlier. More importantly, Arizona became the first state to defeat such a proposal.
While in Congress, even President Bush's election year pandering to social conservatives wasn't enough to revive the federal Marriage Protection Amendment, which would deny marriage to gays. Even under a Republican majority, the Senate and House again both said no.
Nor did the courts let homophobia get in the way of fair rulings on matters of family law. The Arkansas Supreme Court struck down a regulatory policy that banned homosexuals from serving as foster parents, though politicians have vowed to enact a law reversing that.
A struggle over visitation rights with the daughter of a lesbian couple whose relationship was certified through a Vermont civil union before breaking up, bounced back and forth between courts in that state and Virginia until coming to closure in November.
The Virginia court agreed that under federal law, Vermont had jurisdiction. It was careful not to affirm the gay relationship, but it did take a small step toward normalizing the legal treatment of those disputes under standard legal practices.