February 23, 2012 at 12:03 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
In reversal, same-sex marriage advocates playing offense

The issue of same-sex marriage has returned to the national stage in an unprecedented way as numerous states throughout the country are seeing action on the issue.

In the past week, several states have seen developments on marriage. Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into law marriage legislation, while New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a similar bill that reached his desk. The Maryland House voted to approve marriage legislation by a vote of 72-67, clearing what is seen as the most difficult hurdle in getting the legislation to Gov. Martin O’Malley’s desk.

A surprise development in Hawaii was also announced on Wednesday. According to Hawaii News Now, Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) announced he would no longer defend in court a state constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage against federal legislation, while Health Director Loretta Fuddy said she’d continue defending the amendment.

These actions come on the heels of a three-judge panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against the constitutionality of Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage. Anti-gay forces this week appealed the ruling to the full appellate court.

The issue is also at the ballot. Advocates in Minnesota and North Carolina are working to beat back anti-gay marriage amendments, while advocates in Maine are preparing to push the first ever pro-marriage equality ballot in their state.

Meanwhile, anti-gay forces continue threatening to take away marriage rights in New Hampshire through repeal legislation.

M.V. Lee Badgett, a lesbian professor of economics and director of the Center for Public Policy & Administration at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, said she’s struck by “the tipping of the balance toward the proactive and positive side” of the debate on same-sex marriage.

In previous years, the issue of same-sex marriage has predominately seen activity in terms of anti-gay marriage ballot initiatives that — with the exception of Arizona in 2006 — have all been approved by voters, but that situation has changed.

“In four states, the marriage equality forces are on the offensive, with one new victory and others in sight,” Badgett said. “In a fifth, New Hampshire, the effort is more defensive to preserve an earlier win, and a sixth, Maine, is led by people determined to get back the right granted by the legislature but taken away by voters.”

Badgett, also research director at the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, noted only two states, North Carolina and Minnesota, have situations “like the ‘old’ model” of efforts to institute a ban on same-sex marriage in state constitutions.

“That political progress is very likely to reflect a growing cultural acknowledgement that same-sex couples can have the same kind of loving, committed relationships as different-sex couples, so they should also have the same right to marry,” Badgett said.

The issue is already playing out in the 2012 presidential election as the candidates vying for the nomination have adopted positions against marriage equality as part of their campaigns.

Just after the marriage legislation was signed in Washington, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum made a campaign appearance in the state, saying Gregoire’s signature isn’t the “final word” and urging opponents of same-sex marriage to take action. Anti-gay forces have the opportunity to bring the measure to the ballot if they collect 120,577 petition signatures and deliver them to state officials before the June 6 deadline.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has taken an interest in the marriage issue as well. Prior to the New Hampshire primary, he said he supports the repeal of the same-sex marriage law in the state. Both Romney and Santorum have also decried the Ninth Circuit panel’s ruling against Proposition 8 in California.

But what about President Obama? Sixteen months after first saying he could “evolve” on the issue, the president has yet to publicly endorse same-sex marriage, despite other work his administration has done on behalf of same-sex couples, including calling for repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and declaring the anti-gay law unconstitutional.

Last week, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said on Air Force One that he wouldn’t weigh in on individual states’ actions on marriage and reiterated comments he previously made on the issue, saying Obama believes states should decide the issue and the president opposes taking away already established rights from couples.

“I would say only broadly, as I have said in the past, without weighing into individual states and their actions, that this president strongly supports the notion that the states should be able to decide this issue, and he opposes actions that take away rights that have been established by those states,” Carney said.

Pressed on whether Obama is still evolving on same-sex marriage, Carney said has “no update” on Obama’s views on the matter.

Richard Socarides, a New York-based LGBT advocate and former president of Equality Matters, said Obama should endorse same-sex marriage before Election Day.

“I do still believe it’s a good idea politically and I do still believe that he will cross that path and  end up announcing his official support for it, but beyond that I don’t have any serious predictions,” Socarides said.

Socarides said an endorsement from Obama would energize progressive Democrats in an election year and “remind them that he’s a president who stands strongly” with the LGBT community as well as increase the support among the majority of Americans who support same-sex marriage.

Additionally, Socarides said anyone who wouldn’t support Obaman because he endorsed same-sex marriage wouldn’t support the president anyway in an election.

“He kind of has the worst of both worlds now because no one thinks he doesn’t support same-sex marriage, and the people who want him to be more vocal in this regard aren’t satisfied,” Socarides said.

LGBT advocates are also seeking help from the Democratic National Committee on the issue of same-sex marriage on two fronts: an endorsement of same-sex marriage in the Democratic Party platform, which will be issued in the fall, and financial resources to assist pro-LGBT advocates with ballot measures in the various states.

Last week, Freedom to Marry launched a campaign to encourage members of the Democratic Party platform drafting committee to adopt an endorsement of same-sex marriage in the document as well as support for measures overturning DOMA and opposition to anti-gay marriage amendments. As of Wednesday, the organization’s petition had 15,528 signatures.

The proposed platform language has already seen endorsements from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), and, just this week, Emily Tisch Sussman, executive director of the Young Democrats of America.

During a news conference last week, Pelosi expounded upon her endorsement of adding marriage equality to the Democratic Party platform.

“What I, as one person, say that I support, is not necessarily what the consensus document of the platform is, so I was just talking about me when I said that,” Pelosi said. “In fact, in my platform in 1982, it was a midterm platform for our convention in California. We respected the definition of ‘family’ that worked for people, where they found their support, their loving system, and their opportunity to raise a family or to be a family.”

As for contributing money to the fight for same-sex marriage at the ballot, the DNC has made no announcement about financial contributions to pro-LGBT forces in states where it’ll be an issue. According to The Advocate, Jeremy Kennedy, campaign manager for the Coalition to Protect All North Carolina Families, had a meeting with DNC officials to ask for help in defeating the anti-gay marriage amendment in North Carolina, but hasn’t heard a response.

The DNC didn’t respond on short notice to the Blade’s request for comment. During an LGBT fundraiser in D.C. in October, DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz told the Washington Blade she’d “certainly consider” spending money to combat anti-gay constitutional amendments.

In a separate interview in January, Wasserman Schultz deferred to the platform committee on whether same-sex marriage will be included in the Democratic Party platform, although she said she’s supports marriage equality.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • I am inclined to disagree. Just Maine is an offensive this year. The other referendum campaigns are one’s we wish to avoid. That said, it doesn’t matter whether we are offensive or defense. We will know when the tipping point has passed only when we start winning these things. I would stake my net worth to that happening sometime before the decade is out.

  • As soon as Obama endorses gay marriage, he gives the Republican candidates a common target and starts the campaign. It’s better to “evolve,” which means “delay the discussion,” and let the Republicans waste their money savaging each other. There are two ways he can insulate himself from Republican attack on marriage, one is to say he’s against it and the other is to say he is “evolving.” If he were against it, he would say so now. If he is in favor of it, the best strategy is to delay the conversation by saying he is “evolving

    I think Obama is in favor of gay marriage, but won’t reveal it until after the Republican convention. That would be very good strategy.

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