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Marriage in the 2009 Legislative Sessions



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Yesterday, New Hampshire became the sixth state to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples, when the Senate and House passed and the governor signed (all in the same day) legislation that would add some protection for religious objections to the new marriage regime. Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Iowa had redefined marriage by court order. Maine and Vermont did so by legislative action this year. Also during the 2009 sessions, Nevada and Washington created legal statuses equivalent to marriage in all but name for same-sex couples (in a bizarre twist, Nevada’s law also applies to opposite-sex couples who could have married). California, New Jersey, and Oregon already have these kinds of statuses (called either domestic partnerships or civil unions).

It is interesting to speculate on whether the victory of Proposition 8 contributed to this flurry of legislative activity. It seems possible that having sustained a significant loss for the supposedly inevitable cause of redefinition in California, advocates decided to place a greater focus on smaller states where partisan majorities made success more likely, where the institutional strength of marriage (measured by things like marriage rates, prevalence of cohabitation, out-of-wedlock births, etc.) has already diminished, and where it is more difficult to amend the state’s constitution. An important test will be Maine, where there is an ongoing effort to collect signatures to put the issue of marriage before voters.

New York and New Jersey are still likely to be targeted this year, so the situation will remain fluid for the foreseeable future. What remains to be seen is whether the repudiation of marriage as something more than a government endorsement of intimate adult relationships will seep outside of the somewhat unique milieu in which it has currently taken hold.



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