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New York to introduce same-sex marriage bill

After Iowa and Vermont legalized gay marriage, and with bills also pending in Maine and New Hampshire, are gay rights gaining momentum?

By Aelxandra MarksStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / April 16, 2009

New York Gov. David Paterson (c.), joined by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (l.) and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, holds a news conference on Thursday announcing plans to legalize same-sex marriges in New York.

Mary Altaffer/AP

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New York

In a relatively short time, the number of states giving gay couples the right to marry doubled from two to four. On Thursday, New York put in a bid to become the fifth.

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Gov. David Paterson announced his determination to shepherd a "marriage equality" bill through the state legislature this year, in order to build on the momentum generated earlier this month by the legalization of gay marriage in Iowa and Vermont.

"For too long, the gay and lesbian communities have been told their rights and freedoms have to wait," the Democratic governor said Thursday, framing the issue as a civil rights issue as compelling as the 19th century battle for abolition. "This is the real reform, and the time has come to act.... The time has come to bring marriage equality to the State of New York."

Of the states where same-sex marriage is legal, only Vermont adopted it through the legislative process. In Iowa, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, the courts have ruled that it could not be prohibited under their constitutions.

During the past decade, state legislatures have sided overwhelmingly with those who oppose gay marriage. Forty-four states have enacted laws that define marriage as between a man and a woman, known often as Defense of Marriage Acts (DOMAs). Thirty others have amended their constitutions to define marriage in a similar way.

In a sign that momentum may be shifting toward gay rights advocates, bills that would legalize marriage between same-sex couples are pending in Maine and New Hampshire as well as in New York. Illinois lawmakers are considering a bill that would create civil marriages, and Minnesota is looking at a proposal to make marriage gender-neutral. If approved, each would have the effect of allowing gays to marry.

"As couples start to marry for real, much of the public are finding their day-to-day lives aren't changing very much, and that's helping to deflate the rhetoric from opponents of gay marriage," says Dan Hawes, director of organizing at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "The events of the last several weeks in two such really very different places show the building of momentum."

But, pointing to the 30 states with DOMA amendments, opponents of same-sex marriage say they are confident that legalization will remain confined to a few states.

"If there really is any momentum, it's going to encounter some pretty serious obstacles," says William Duncan, director of the Marriage Law Foundation in Lehi, Utah. "We're talking about a handful of states [that may legalize same-sex marriage] that are pretty unique in terms of their political and social climate."

Courts and minority rights

Historically, courts often have acted to define legal protections for minorities, such as in legalizing interracial marriage or desegregating schools, before legislatures. Such rulings have helped to change public perception of an issue, and subsequently, prompted legislative action.

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