Which states might be next for marriage equality?

Proactive efforts got underway this month to allow gay couples to marry in at least three more states.

Democratic leaders in the New Jersey legislature announced Jan. 9 their intent to introduce a marriage equality bill. Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire (D), a long-time supporter of rights for same-sex couples, announced Jan. 4 that she would introduce such a bill in her state.

And in Maryland, where a marriage equality bill passed the state Senate but not the House in March 2011, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has said he will sponsor marriage legislation in 2012 and will take an active role in moving the bill forward this year. And Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) has indicated his chamber will shortly take action on such a measure.

After 2011 saw marriage equality become reality in the most populous state yet and the Obama administration issuing a major statement against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), 2012 could do even better.

Evan Wolfson, president of the national advocacy group Freedom to Marry, said progress towards marriage equality in 2012 will be “fueled by the extraordinary, transformative wins we racked up in 2011.”

At the same time, he said, “We definitely have our big challenges in 2012 and we’re not going to win every battle.”

On the positive side, the three states above could see legislative success toward allowing gay couples to marry.

Both Governors O’Malley and Gregoire seem to be following the example of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who was actively involved in supporting gay marriage legislation in his state’s legislature in 2011.

But the road will be much harder in New Jersey, where Republican Gov. Chris Christie has said he would veto any bill allowing gays to marry. Supporters will have to gain enough votes to override that veto.

Marriage rights in trouble?

One state could lose marriage equality this year. The New Hampshire House will likely vote this month on a bill to repeal gay marriage in the state. If it passes, the bill would then go to the state Senate, which under normal procedure would not vote on it until at least April. Gov. John Lynch (D) has said he would veto the bills, although the legislature could override the veto.

Wolfson noted that marriage equality advocates also “continue to be vigilant” in Iowa, where same-sex couples gained the right to marry in 2009. The state House last year passed a bill that would have started the process of putting a repeal measure on the ballot, but Democratic leadership blocked the bill in the Senate.

Two states — North Carolina and Minnesota — will vote this year on state constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage.

Minnesota’s ballot measure will appear in November. North Carolina’s, however, will appear on the May 2012 primary ballot – not in November as originally planned–a move that may make it more likely to pass.

Some Democrats had accused Republicans of using the bill to draw conservative voters to the polls in November. But the major contested primaries in May will be the Republican votes for president and governor, meaning voter turnout in May will be largely Republican and more likely to oppose gay marriage.

Elsewhere, Indiana and Pennsylvania started the process in 2011 for anti-gay marriage ballot measures, and those could see further action in 2012. Both states require two legislative sessions to pass ballot measures that would amend the state constitutions.

In Maine, LGBT advocates collected enough signatures to place a measure in favor of marriage equality before voters on the 2012 ballot. A spokesperson for the effort, Ian Grady, said the advocates have not yet decided whether to submit the signatures and proceed with the effort. Their deadline is the end of January.

Top photo: Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire has announced that she will introduce legislation to allow gay couples to marry in her state. (courtesy Washington governor’s office)