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States Gear Up to Push Gay Marriage in 2011

By L.K. Regan

The election was in November, but many of its effects are just beginning to be felt now. And among these is a renewed commitment among newly elected officials to address gay rights issues, including marriage equality. Here are people and places that have stepped up and offered some commitments for the coming year.

First, the new governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, whose first State of the State address on Wednesday included a promise to bring gay marriage to the Empire State. "We believe in justice for all, then let's pass marriage equality this year once and for all." The last part of that sentence is surely a reference to the fact that a gay marriage bill failed in the New York state senate in 2009. But, the Republican majority leader of the state senate, Dean Skelos, has said that he will allow the bill to come again to the floor, meaning that Cuomo might get a new bite at that apple. Cuomo has also continued a pre-existing executive order that prohibits bias in state employment on the basis of gender identity and expression. Whether he can have broader success with a state senate where not one Republican voted for gay marriage in 2009 remains to be seen—but he's off to an auspicious start.

In Rhode Island, a gay marriage bill foundered last year, but it is finding new life in 2011, and is being re-introduced to the state House this week. Representative Art Handy has taken charge of the bill, though he has the support of the governor, Lincoln Chafee, who has expressed a desire to see gay marriage legalized this year. At least one State Representative has threatened to bypass the legislative process and put gay marriage to a public vote instead, but he may have left it too late. Though Handy has introduced this bill each year for nine years, he now has a sympathetic governor who has promised to sign.

The election also changed the landscape in Maryland, where same-sex marriage has been unable to get through the legislature. In that state's senate, the Judicial Proceedings Committee has been the point of resistance to a gay marriage bill. But the election turned over some of the members, and laid the groundwork for new commitments from others. Said state Democratic delegate Heather Mizeur—one of the seven gay and lesbian members of the state legislature—“We remain cautiously optimistic that we’ve got the votes to push this bill through in this session, and that’s what we intend to do.”

Finally, it's worth noting that on January 1st in New Hampshire, true marriage equality went into effect. That is, all civil unions that had not been dissolved or ended, were converted into marriages.