Many of us remember June 16, 2008, when the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality. Only several months later it was struck down by the right’s discriminatory Proposition 8 initiative. So far same-sex marriage is legal in only eight jurisdictions: seven states and the District of Columbia. So what if I told you that by next year that number could sink to six jurisdictions?
That’s right folks, in New Hampshire and Iowa the right is launching repeal pushes.
Why are the Republicans targeting Iowa and New Hampshire? Because the GOP has traditional footholds in both these states as compared to traditionally liberal states that have marriage equality also such as Massachusetts and Connecticut.
In New Hampshire in 2010 a Republican legislature was elected by tea party groups. Yet New Hampshire Republicans are known for being more liberal than their southern counterparts. So what gives? And why is the Republican legislature trying to repeal marriage equality?
It has to do with outside pressure. New Hampshire has the first-in-the-nation presidential primary. If New Hampshire Republicans were to just let marriage equality alone, outside right-wing Christian groups like National Organization for Marriage, the Family Research Council and the American Family Association would use their influence and press for another state to host the first-in-the-nation primary. Simply put, the Republicans in New Hampshire are sacrificing the rights of LGBT residents in the state to appease outside social conservative forces.
The good news about New Hampshire is that Governor John Lynch is a progressive Democrat and has vowed to stand and protect the rights of the state’s LGBT residents. He has promised to veto the repeal. And the bill is expected to die in the legislature as Republicans don’t have a large enough majority to overrule the governor.
In Iowa the situation is a little different. The Republican Party has a large foothold here. The far-right Evangelical Christian movement has deep ties in the state as well. There is currently a proposed referendum scheduled for 2012 that bans not only same-sex marriage but any kind of civil union or domestic partnership benefits. So in effect not only would Iowa would be denying LGBT people their rights to equality, but LGBT workers who work in jobs that provide domestic partnership benefits to them and their partners would lose those benefits.
There is a bit of hope. In Tuesday’s elections, the Democrats maintained their two-seat majority in the Iowa State Senate, where they have vowed to block the amendment.
So barring any Democrat defections equality may yet prevail in Iowa and New Hampshire.
But why is marriage equality so important?
What if I told you that that 15% of gay men live in poverty? What if I told you that 24% of lesbians live in poverty? What if I also added in the fact that 64% of transgender individuals reported earning much lower wages than the average heterosexual? Marriage and domestic partnership benefits help lift LGBT people out of poverty.
To say it clearly LGBT workers deserve access to the same benefits as heterosexuals. This should extend to marriage equality and domestic partnership benefits. Heterosexual couples, even unmarried ones, have access to all these benefits. But LGBT people are often denied these benefits routinely.
In all eight jurisdictions where marriage equality is recognized, LGBT couples gain immediate access to tax benefits on the state level, the ability to add their spouse to their work benefits such as health insurance, pension plan, and other benefits.
Another six states provide civil unions which provide all or most of the benefits of marriage. A further eight states and several hundred municipalities offer domestic partnership registries to LGBT people that provide limited forms of benefits. While civil unions and domestic partnership benefits are nice, they are still not full marriage equality.
But still in 42 states LGBT people are denied their full marriage rights! It could end up being 44 if we don’t act to defend them! Get involved! Join the groups like the Human Rights Campaign and the AFL-CIO’s Pride at Work in the fight for equality.