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Gay Marriage - In the Courts, On the Ballot

Last week, Connecticut's high court struck down the state's civil union law and ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.  Connecticut joins Massachusetts and California as the only states that recognize gay marriage.  As the New York Times reported, the Connecticut ruling is notable because it found for the first time that a state civil union law, while providing all the legal rights of marriage to gay couples but limiting marriage to heterosexual couples, violated the state's "constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law."

Writing for the majority in the 4-3 decision, Justice Richard N. Palmer wrote:

Interpreting our state constitutional provisions in accordance with firmly established equal protection principles leads inevitably to the conclusion that gay persons are entitled to marry the otherwise qualified same-sex partner of their choice.  To decide otherwise would require us to apply one set of constitutional principles to gay persons and another to all others.

Speaking directly to whether civil unions provide the same constitutional right to "equal protection under the law" as marriage, Justice Palmer wrote:

Although marriage and civil unions do embody the same legal rights under our law, they are by no means equal.  The former is an institution of transcendent historical, cultural and social significance, whereas the latter is not.

Opponents of gay marriage are working to make the constitution a discriminatory tool by enacting a constitutional ban on gay marriage.  They hope to use a procedurally complicated state constitutional convention to enact a ban, but first need voters to call the convention.  However, a new poll shows that Connecticut residents support the court's decision by a margin of 53-42 and even the state's Republican Governor, Jodi Rell, who opposes same-sex marriage, does not support a constitutional ban. 

Gay Marriage on the Ballot: The marriage rights of gays and lesbians in California, however, are much more tenuous.  After the California Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage earlier this year, opponents mobilized the ever-potent "forces of bigotry and bias" to place a constitutional ban on gay marriage before voters next month.  A recent poll shows support for the ban, on the ballot as Proposition 8, 47% to 42%, with 10% undecided.  Currently, opponents to gay marriage are outspending its supporters "2 or 3 to 1" and are, predictably, using baseless fear to mobilize support for the ban. 

Similarly, voters in Florida will vote next month on a question whether to amend the constitution by defining "marriage as between a man and a woman."  Michael Schiavo, who battled with conservative Christians over his wife Terri's feeding and hydration tubes, is actively campaigning against the initiative.  And, after rejecting a gay-marriage ban in 2006, Arizona voters will decide whether to amend the constitution by defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman, even though, as the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center points out, state law already denies marriage to same-sex couples.