'Everything but marriage' bills advancing
CARSON CITY, Nevada (BP)--Nevada's legislature overrode the governor's veto Sunday in passing a bill legalizing same-sex domestic partnerships, continuing a growing and often overlooked nationwide movement to grant same-sex couples the legal benefits of marriage, minus the name.
The law goes into effect Oct. 1 and gives same-sex couples "the same rights, protections and benefits" as are provided to married couples. The law also applies to heterosexual couples.
Just two weeks ago, Washington state Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire signed a similar bill expanding the state's domestic partnerships law to provide same-sex couples all the state legal benefits of marriage.
Including Nevada and Washington, six states now have so-called "everything but marriage laws," which are dubbed either civil unions or domestic partnerships. The other states are California, Oregon, New Jersey and New Hampshire. Federal benefits are not available to the couples.
The laws often are promoted as a "middle of the road" approach, but opponents argue that they simply are stepping stones to "gay marriage," as has been shown to be the case in Connecticut and Vermont, two states that formerly had civil unions but now recognize "gay marriage." New Hampshire may soon join that list.
Illinois' legislature is considering a civil unions bill.
The bills are advancing at the same time "gay marriage" -- which typically gets spotlight -- also makes traction nationwide, particularly in the Northeast. Five states have legalized "gay marriage."
Russell Johnson, director of governmental affairs for the Family Policy Institute of Washington, said Washington state now is in a position similar to where California was last year, when the California Supreme Court legalized "gay marriage" and said the state could not have "separate but equal" institutions for opposite-sex and same-sex couples.
"The supporters of this bill have publicly said at press conferences that the intent of this legislation is to create a legal precedent and a legislative precedent for either the courts to impose gay marriage or for the state legislature to adopt terms that redefine marriage," Johnson told Baptist Press. "Those who support domestic partnerships on the legislative level are pretty clear and up front about their positions."
Conservatives in Washington state have come together under an organization known as Protect Marriage Washington (Protectmarriagewa.com) and have launched an effort to repeal the new law. They must collect 120,000 signatures by July 25 to place the issue on the November ballot. In a statement on its website the group says that if the law stands, the state "will immediately become subject to litigation by same-sex partners demanding that the courts overturn the Defense of Marriage Act and impose 'same-sex marriage.'".
The issue increasingly is dividing Democrats and Republicans. In Washington, a Democratic-controlled legislature promoted the bill. In Nevada, Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons vetoed the bill, only to see the Democratic-controlled Assembly and Senate override him. The override attempt passed the legislature by the bare minimum in each chamber: 28-14 in the Assembly and 14-7 in the Senate.
Nevada Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, a Democrat, applauded the bill. An override was backed by the casino industry, which feared a threatened boycott by the homosexual community if the bill didn't become law.
"This is the most important civil rights legislation we've had in all my years here and I am so happy and honored to be a part of it," she said, according to the Las Vegas Sun.
In his May 25 veto, Gibbons said he was rejecting the bill in part because the Nevada constitution states that "only marriage between a male and a female person shall be recognized and given effect" in Nevada. The marriage amendment was approved by voters in 2002, 67-33 percent.
"[The bill] would effectively bypass that constitutional mandate by allowing the rights and privileges of marriage to be bestowed upon non-married persons," Gibbons said. "… I believe that because the voters have determined that the rights of marriage should apply only to married couples, only the voters should determine whether those rights should equally apply to domestic partners."
Opponents of "gay marriage" say redefining marriage will have a negative impact on religious freedom and children. Austin R. Nimocks, an attorney with the legal group Alliance Defense Fund -- which opposes "gay marriage" -- said earlier this year, "All non-partisan research and plain common sense tells us that children need a mom and dad, so the issue is bigger than a 'personal relationship.' In the end, the question is this: Which parent doesn't matter: a mom or a dad?"
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. To read how "gay marriage" impacts parental rights and religious freedom click here.