By Jacob Winkelman
Last Tuesday, Governor Neil Abercrombie (D) signed legislation to end the state of Hawaii’s ban on same sex marriage. After Governor Abercrombie called a special session to discuss the issue in August, Hawaii’s state legislature went through weeks of rigorous debate and amendment procedures. Finally the state Senate passed the bill 19-4, the House approved the measure 30-19, and the Governor signed it, making Hawaii the 15th state to do so. Hawaii has a unique history with gay marriage dating back to 1993 when three same-sex couples successfully challenged the legality of the state’s gay marriage ban. This was the first time in US history that any judge had ruled same sex marriage bans to be unconstitutional. However, this victory was short lived, and in 1994 the state legislature passed a statue that limited marriage to “one man and one woman”. Voters in 1998 upheld the state legislature’s power to define marriage officially voiding the court’s 1993 decision. But with public attitudes shifting in favor of gay marriage, Hawaii’s state legislature was finally able to conclude this 20-year battle for basic equality.
In Illinois, the state has not officially legalized gay marriage, but Governor Pat Quinn has set next Wednesday as his date to sign SB10 the bill recently passed by the state legislature. State Representative Greg Harris initially introduced a similar bill back in 2007 but the bill died quickly. After numerous failed attempts by both Representative Greg Harris and State Senator Heather Steans over the past 6 years to pass same sex marriage legislation, 2013 looked to finally be a year for success. In February of this year the State Senate approved the bill 34-21 and Governor Pat Quinn voiced his support ensuring gay rights advocates he would sign a bill if passed by the State House of Representatives. After successful attempts to delay the bill by Republicans in the house, the House of Representatives finally passed SB10 on November 5th 61-54. Illinois will become the 16th state to recognize same sex marriages in the United States.
Gay marriage has been a contentious debate across the United States for the past few decades. Over the last few years gay rights advocates have seen a dramatic public opinion shift in their favor on the topic of same sex marriage. Approximately 55% of Americans support and around 40% oppose same sex marriage, with the first majority of approval occurring earlier this year. 10 years ago marked the first time gay marriage became legal in the United States when the Massachusetts State Supreme Court ruled a state ban unconstitutional. Since then, 15 states have followed suit with 33% of the United States population now living in a state with same sex marriage.
Gay right advocates are looking to voters for continuance of the remarkable progress made over the past decade. Already Oregon, New Mexico, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and a few other states are likely see referendums on state bans as early as 2014. At this point only 5 demographic groups still have a majority of opposition to gay marriage including tea partiers, evangelical Christians, lower educated Caucasians, people over 65, and Republicans. Every other demographic has a majority support of same sex marriage leading activists to be optimistic about passing ballot propositions on the issue. For those of you living in Arizona, gay marriage will not be on the 2014 ballot but is likely to garner enough support for 2016. In 2008 Arizonans voted for a state constitutional ban on same sex marriage, which is what advocates hope to overturn. Recent polling shows 55% support for same sax marriage and 71% support by Hispanics in Arizona.
Despite progress nationwide, there is still one area that has seen very little headway on the issue. The South is the only region of the US that does not have a single state with legalized same sex marriage. Voter approval of same sex marriage is lowest in these states compared to anywhere else in the country, and the percentage of white evangelicals and tea party supporters is the highest. Many states in the South need constitutional amendments to reverse their bans which means ballot propositions will not be an option for most states. With that being said, political analysts 10 years ago would never have predicted that 15 states would legalize gay marriage and a majority of Americans would support gay marriage by 2013. Public attitude has shifted faster than most people thought possible with some national Republicans already signaling a desire to move more to the center on the issue. For now, gay marriage advocates will continue to move state by state sharing their message of love, support, and commitment. It seems inevitable that one day (maybe sooner than we expect) this basic human right will be granted to all Americans, putting another chapter of American discrimination behind us.
This post reflects the author’s personal opinions, not the opinions of Arizona Model United Nations.