American Foundation for Equal Rights

Marriage News Update: Nov. 14, 2011

A victory for DOMA repeal in the Senate Judiciary Committee, but now it faces even greater hurdles in the full Senate. An election night victory in Iowa means marriage is safe, for now; but polling in Minnesota shows cause for alarm. Activists raise the stakes in Washington, Maryland, Oregon, and Maine. And a marriage equality betrayal by the Australian Prime Minister forces a showdown with her own party.

By a 10 to 8 margin, the Respect for Marriage Act passed the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. The bill, which would repeal the federal ban on marriage equality, now moves to a hostile Senate. But that’s okay: this is the furthest that DOMA repeal has ever gone, and even if anti-gay legislators hold things up for a little while, we know that in the end, we’ll win.

This latest move on DOMA has links to Proposition 8 in California. Just as with AFER’s case against Prop 8, DOMA’s opponents point out that marriage bans violate the United States Constitution. And the harm to LGBT couples and their families is clear: the law prevents other states and the federal government from recognizing our valid legal marriages.

In advance of this week’s hearing, California governor Jerry Brown sent a letter to Judiciary chair Patrick Leahy, pointing out that 18,000 couples married in California, and “these marriages deserve to be treated the same by the federal government and other states as Californians in other valid marriages.”

And even though LGBT marriages still aren’t afforded full equal protection, their numbers continue to grow around the country. That’s thanks in part to a victory in Iowa this week, with pro-equality Senator Liz Mathis defeating a candidate backed by anti-marriage activists. This was a crucial race because Mathis’ seat was the one vote that could have tipped the Senate against marriage equality, giving our opponents a chance to force a vote on Iowa marriages. So we’re safe, for now.

There’s more good news in Washington, with State Representative Jim Moller revealing that he’ll introduce a marriage equality bill in 2012. This is a big step forward and a pleasant surprise, since previously legislators claimed that they didn’t have enough votes to advance such a bill. According to Moller, dozens of lawmakers now support the measure. We’ll have more on this story next week, but for now, polling is encouraging. Fifty-five percent of voters say they’d support a marriage equality bill, with only 38% opposed.

But there’s reason to worry in Minnesota. Anti-gay activists have placed marriage equality on the ballot next year, and four recent surveys show that voters are falling for the same lies we’ve heard in past elections. Whether it’s “redefining marriage” or “protecting children,” anti-gay forces in Minnesota are up to the same old tricks that passed Proposition 8. There’s nothing we can do to stop the vote at this point. Our rights will be on the ballot in November 2012. The best we can do is have as many conversations as possible between now and then. Because as we’ve seen, those conversations are our secret weapons. Every time we talk about committed, loving LGBT families, we win more support.

And that’s what marriage equality champions are counting on in Maine. This week, Equality Maine volunteers descended on polling stations to gather signatures to overturn that state’s marriage ban. This strategy isn’t without risk, since they’re counting on a popular vote, rather than appealing to Constitutional protections. But the polling for now is in our favor, with 51% of Mainers supporting marriage equality to 42% opposed. But a lot can happen between now and next year.

Elections are unpredictable, and that’s why Basic Rights Oregon decided this week not to return to the ballot in 2012. After extensive outreach, the organization announced that they’re pursuing as strategy of public education rather than an expensive election fight.

And Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard continues to block her own party’s support for marriage equality. Every Labor leader in the country wants the party to endorse marriage equality except Gillard. And this isn’t her only snub of LGBT families. Earlier this year, a lesbian couple won a dinner with Gillard at a charity auction with their bid of $31,000. That was five months ago, and so far the Prime Minister has refused to sit down with the couple.

Those are the headlines, visit us at to connect with the fight for full federal marriage equality. And visit for more on all these stories and more. We’ll see you next week.