Tuesday, March 31, 2009

New England Looking SSM Good

To school bus drivers, governor is a nasty term. The device that limits the bus' speed can make for slow going. That's an apt parallel to three of four New England states that could legalize same-sex marriage. The top elected official wants to slow or prevent SSM in Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

This is a crop that New Englanders have sown for a long time. The six states have tended to slightly or moderately liberal Democratic legislatures, very often offset in the voters' minds by a conservative Republican. Somehow the idea seems to be that if everyone running government is even a little left leading, something terrible will happen.

This is what we around here put in the common-sense category. That's another way of justifying an emotional decision with no solid basis.

However, like the bus device, having a refractory or reactionary head of state does slow down changes. Moving slowly politically remains a virtue here. By the bye, to many of us progressives, the assertion that Massachusetts is filled with extreme left-wingers is amusing. Social and financial conservatism still characterize the nominal Democrats, voters and pols alike.

This winter and spring have been an exciting period for same-sex marriage rumblings if not earthquakes. Two of the six states have SSM, three are considering it, and one is waiting for the walrus of no to run into his term limit wall in two years.
Podcast Note: Lynne, Ryan and I shall discuss SSM in this region today on our Left Ahead! podcast at 2:30 p.m. live or on LA later. There will likely also be some choice words about UMASS Chancellor and former U.S. Rep. Marty Meehan.
On SSM, this blog has numerous recent posts about legislative consideration in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. The latter is the only one with a marriage-equality friendly governor, Jim Baldacci.

Maine

Maine has also rocketed from struggling against strong anti-gay forces who used ballot initiatives to roll back even basic legal protections for homosexuals in employment, housing and elsewhere. Now there's a real possibility of passing SSM this year. Baldacci would certainly sign that.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island is at the opposite extreme. While the legislature is majority positive to marriage equality, Gov. Donald Carcieri has done and will do his utmost to hamper homosexuals in general and prevent SSM in particular. For a few examples, he vetoed domestic partnership death and retirement benefits for government employees and in a 2004 court case considering whether R.I. had the right to grant a same-sex divorce for a marriage recorded in Massachusetts, he went overboard.

He spent $15,000 tax payer funds to file an amicus brief railing against both SSM and civil unions. As the state ACLU report notes, "Most notably, the brief opined that recognizing same-sex couples (whether through marriage or civil unions) "could be disastrous for future generations" and "would have profoundly detrimental effects [upon] families, children and society."

Carcieri is a Republican who runs into his term limit in 2010. The legislature figures they don't have veto-override margins and won't even try until he's gone.

Vermont

The Green Mountain state has dominated SSM news here for weeks, holding public hearings after years of discussion and public study. Of course, it was the first state to legalize civil unions, in 2000. It's been thinking about SSM, and apparently watching Massachusetts and Connecticut, since.

The Senate passed SSM 26 to 4 and the House is about to vote. It seems certain to pass there, but then what? Gov. Jim Douglas announced he thinks civil unions are just swell (what else could they want after we gave them that?) and that he'll veto the bill. Pro and con sides are calling, writing, visiting and lobbying the lawmakers non-stop. This is the region's biggest TBD this season. No one seems to know if the override numbers (100 of 150 if all are present) are in the House.

New Hampshire

The Granite state is similar, although they got to SSM consideration a lot quicker once they started studying and talking. In both states, right wingers and fundies are wailing that this is happening so fast with so little consideration. Both of course have had years of open study and hearing as well as legislative committee work and debate to get here.

Yet, here too Gov. John Lynch (oddly a socially conservative Democrat) is the governor in both senses of the term. He is OK with civil unions, but he tries to inject emotion and religion into the marriage-equality debate. He opposes SSM.

In Lynch's case, he has no term limits, although along with Vermont, New Hampshire is the other state that elects its top dog every two years. He may be a little cautious about vetoing an SSM bill (he won't say in advance), but in his mewing way, he repeats that personally he believes marriage must remain limited to a man and a woman.

Year of Who Knows?

So, in R.I., the governor will do his damnedest to hamper homosexuals, individually and as couples. The legislature is likely to remain gutless on SSM until he leaves.

In Maine, they have moved very fast. They may well take a breather for another year before passing the bill. They could surprise us though, as they have advanced steadily since GLBT folk there came out, seemingly in toto, to their neighbors, church members and coworkers.

Vermont and New Hampshire are iffy. The lawmakers say yes, the governors say no, and it may come to hard-fought every-vote-counts lobbying.

As impatient as I am, this has been an exciting and optimistic year. We could use another big state, like New York, New Jersey or even an overturn of Prop 8 in California. However, two or more in this region would do just fine.

That six-by-twelve (all New England states legalizing SSM by 2012) seems increasingly possible. Politically and even graphically, it would be a big old thumb in the eye of a nation that is slow to move to marriage equality.

It began here and let it continue here.

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