Tag Archives: marry

ONE UNION: Marriage for all in 50 states

“No union is more profound than marriage,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy in the Supreme Court ruling that cleared the way for same-sex couples to marry in all 50 states.

And no Supreme Court decision in recent history delivered such joy across the America.

“Justice that arrives like a thunderbolt,” proclaimed the president on June 26.

“One union!” cheerleaders for equality shouted on Capitol Hill after learning of the 5-4 opinion handed down by the court.

“Oh, say, can you see,” the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C., sang outside the Supreme Court building.

“Love wins!” boomed celebrants at Pride parades June 28 in San Francisco, New York City, Chicago and other U.S. cities.

“I do!” said newlywed same-sex couples in states where they can still be fired for saying “I’m gay.”

An outpouring of congratulations and affirmation spilled from Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr as smartphones lighted up with texts about the triumphant ruling.

“Was there a major company that didn’t have a rainbow logo ready to go?” Paula Sibley wondered aloud as she celebrated at St. Pete Pride June 27 in St. Petersburg, Florida. Well, yes, she acknowledged, “But who cares about them?”

Many politicians, from the nation’s Capitol to the presidential campaign trail to common council chambers, gushed praise — but not all, obviously.

President Barack Obama, before departing the White House for a funeral in Charleston, South Carolina, stepped into the Rose Garden to celebrate Decision Day. He paid tribute to the LGBT civil rights movement and the courage of each LGBT person and their families. “What an extraordinary achievement. What a vindication of the belief that ordinary people can do extraordinary things,” the president said.

Meanwhile, others, most notably the right-wing Republicans seeking to succeed Obama in the Oval Office, attacked the Supreme Court decision as judicial activism, though dozens of other courts — state and federal — have ruled for marriage equality.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, an unofficial candidate for the GOP nomination as of press time, called the decision a “grave mistake” and accused Kennedy, Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan of taking “it upon themselves to redefine the institution of marriage” in Obergefell v. Hodges.

But words from Walker and others didn’t damper Decision Day rallies held in many cities, including Milwaukee and Madison, or mute the euphoric Pride celebrations held June 28 to commemorate the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in 1969.

“They can go back under their rocks,” said Chicago Pride celebrant Ray Naifen. “What happened June 26 means there is no more ‘same-sex marriage,’ there is only marriage.”

Tussles continue over marriage licenses in some places, but the court declared there is no legal or moral justification for standing in the path of marriage equality. In the history books, June 26, 2015, will be the date gay marriage was declared legal across the United States.

“The court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry,” Kennedy wrote.

“No longer may this liberty be denied,” he said in the decision.

Obergefell was a consolidation of disputes over marriage bans in Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky and Michigan but also impacted bans in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, most of Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Texas.

The lead plaintiff, James Obergefell, dedicated the ruling that “our love is equal” to his late husband, John Arthur. 

Obergefell and Arthur sued the state of Ohio two years ago, seeking recognition of their out-of-state marriage. There was urgency to their plea — John Arthur was ill and he died three months after their wedding.

“The fact that the state I have long called home will finally recognize my marriage to the man I honored and cherished for more than 20 years is a profound vindication — a victory I’m proud to share with countless more couples across the country,” Obergefell said. “Today’s victory proves that anything is possible, and I could not be more hopeful about the capacity of this country to change for the better.”

By July 1, as WiG headed to press, two New Orleans men had married in Louisiana, the last state to move to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.



Alabama Supreme Court says anti-gay ruling stands until U.S. Supreme Court rules

The Alabama Supreme Court has made itself an outlier in the judicial march legalizing same-sex marriages in the United States, drawing rebukes from gay rights advocates and evoking comparisons to Alabama’s defiance of federal authorities during the civil rights movement.

The court set up a showdown with a Mobile, Alabama, federal judge this week when it ordered officials in the state to stop issuing same-sex marriage licenses pending a U.S. Supreme Court decision later this year on whether gays and lesbians have a fundamental right to marry.

The Alabama ruling contradicts U.S. District Judge Callie “Ginny” Granade, who declared in January that Alabama’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution.

“Even as nationwide marriage equality is on the horizon, the Alabama Supreme Court is determined to be on the wrong side of history,” said Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Alabama wasn’t the first state where a federal trial or appeals court declared same-sex marriages legal, but the state justices made Alabama the only state to push back in advance of the U.S. Supreme Court settling the matter.

The justices’ decision had quick results: By Wednesday afternoon, gay rights advocates said they could not find one of Alabama’s 67 counties where a same-sex couple could get a marriage license. Before the ruling, 48 counties had issued licenses in compliance with Granade’s earlier declarations.

The Alabama justices don’t dispute that the nation’s highest court will have the final say. But absent that ruling, the justices reasoned, they remain the ultimate authority on applying the U.S. Constitution to a state law. “State courts may interpret the U.S. Constitution independently from, and even contrary to, federal courts,” they wrote in a decision that described “traditional” marriage as “the fundamental unit of society.”

Minter, the attorney who represented gay couples who initially challenged Alabama’s ban, said the state justices showed “callous disregard” for their rights.

Dean Lanton said he and his partner, Randy Wells, had planned to wed in Birmingham on Aug. 12, the anniversary of their first date, but now might have to get married out of state because of the decision.

“It was a punch in the gut. It was out of the blue,” said Lanton, 54. “It’s just Alabama politics, deja vu from the 1960s.”

University of Alabama law professor Ronald Krotoszynski said the Alabama justices are technically correct in asserting their authority in the case. The U.S. Constitution actually doesn’t say whether state courts must adhere to federal court rulings. It simply created U.S. Supreme Court and authorized Congress to create other federal courts as necessary.

But Krotoszynski said the particular circumstances still make the Alabama action surprising, particularly given that the 11th U.S. Circuit of Appeals in Atlanta and the U.S. Supreme Court itself declined Alabama’s earlier requests to delay Granade’s order until after the high court rules this year.

Many legal observers have interpreted those refusals as the court telegraphing its intention to rule in favor of same-sex marriage advocates.

“Does the (Alabama) court have the power to do this? Yes,” the professor said. “Was it wise for the court to exercise its power this way? I’d say no. … This is just not a standard kind of move in the inter-relationship between state and federal courts.”

Same-sex couples will likely appeal up to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary to block the latest state supreme court ruling, said Ben Cooper, chairman of Equality Alabama. “It’s important to understand that this is not nearly the end of this,” he said.

Montgomery County Probate Judge Steven Reed, a Democrat who was among the first to comply with Granade’s order, said he would likely join an appeal.

John Enslen, Reed’s colleague in neighboring Elmore County, however, praised the Alabama justices. He wrote on his Facebook page that he is “saddened for my nation that the word `marriage’ has been hijacked by couples who cannot procreate.”

Then there are the county officials who aren’t advocating a position – they’re just tired of the legal roller coaster.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Probate Judge Leon Archer in rural Tallapoosa County. “I had done made up my mind we were going to issue the licenses and I thought that was it. And I think that is going to be the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in June.”

Alabama Supreme Court to judges: Stop issuing marriage licenses to gay couples

The all-Republican Alabama Supreme Court on sided with a pair of conservative groups late on March 3 and ordered Alabama’s 68 probate judges to stop issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.

A previous ruling by U.S. District Judge Callie Granade that gay-marriage bans violate the U.S. Constitution does not preclude the judges from following state law, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, the court ruled.

It was not immediately clear what effect the court’s ruling would have, or what probate judges would do after opening their doors on March 4.

While a six-member majority of the nine-member court did not explicitly invalidate the marriages of hundreds of same-sex couples who obtained licenses in the state in recent weeks, the decision used the term “purported” to describe those licenses.

The court’s most outspoken opponent of gay marriage, Chief Justice Roy Moore, recused himself from the case and did not participate in the writing of the unsigned 134-page decision.

After Granade’s ruling, Moore told probate judges across the state not to issue same-sex marriage licenses. His stance created widespread confusion, prompting some judges to refuse to issue the licenses and others to shut down their operations for all couples, gay and straight, until they could get a clear answer. Still others decided to issue the licenses.

Of the other justices on Alabama’s high court, one agreed with the ruling while citing some reservations, and one, Justice Greg Shaw, dissented.

In his dissent, Shaw said it was “unfortunate” that federal courts refused to delay gay marriage in the state until the U.S. Supreme Court could settle the issue nationally. But, Shaw said, the state Supreme Court doesn’t have the power to consider the issue and is creating more confusion by “venturing into unchartered waters (sic)” outside its jurisdiction.

The court released the decision while Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and most state leaders were assembled in Montgomery for the state of the state address. A spokeswoman for Bentley said the administration was reviewing the decision and had no immediate comment.

The court’s ruling came in response to a request from the Southern Baptist-affiliated Alabama Citizens Action Program and the Alabama Policy Institute, a conservative think tank, which asked the justices to halt same-sex unions.

Joe Godfrey, executive director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program, said he was very excited about the decision.

“We are concerned about the family and the danger that same-sex marriage will have. It will be a devastating blow to the family, which is already struggling,” Godfrey said.

He said the decision will provide some stability in Alabama until the U.S Supreme Court rules later this year. The nation’s high court will hear oral arguments in April and is expected to issue a ruling by June regarding whether gay couples nationwide have a fundamental right to marry and whether states can ban such unions.

An attorney representing couples who filed suit to allow gay marriages said the Alabama Supreme Court showed “callous disregard” and overstepped its bounds by declaring the state’s ban on same-sex marriages constitutional, something she said the justices hadn’t been asked to consider.

“It is deeply unfortunate that even as nationwide marriage equality is on the horizon, the Alabama Supreme Court is determined to be on the wrong side of history,” said Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

David Kennedy, a lawyer for the couple in the case that resulted in Granade’s ruling overturning Alabama’s gay-marriage ban, said the U.S. Supreme Court spoke on the Alabama case when it refused to block Granade’s decision.

“The Alabama Supreme Court has now demonstrated a willingness to defy and nullify a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and the federal district court for the southern district of Alabama,” said Kennedy.

The Alabama court ruled the state’s ban on gay marriage isn’t discriminatory because it bans both men and women from marrying people of the same sex, and it said the law has a rational basis because it is meant to recognize and encourage ties “between children and their biological parents.”

While “traditional marriage” can be considered a fundamental right, gay marriage cannot since same-sex unions amount to a redefinition of the term, the court ruled.

It’s not enough to decide that gays should be able to wed because they are in love, the justices wrote, adding that polygamy would be legal were that a main test.

In advance of a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, Alabama is among several states dealing with a tide of lower federal court rulings favoring same-sex marriage. In North Carolina, a legislative committee scheduled debate for Wednesday on a bill that would let courthouse workers cite religious objections for refusing to carry out duties involving gay unions.

Gay couples to marry Thursday in South Carolina

The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has denied the state of South Carolina’s motion to stay last week’s U.S. District Court ruling striking down the state’s discriminatory marriage ban, setting the stage for marriages to begin for same-sex couples at moon on Nov. 20.

South Carolina’s attorney general had filed a motion for an emergency stay to delay marriages following a ruling by the U. S. District Court for the District of South Carolina striking down the state’s discriminatory marriage ban in accordance with the Fourth Circuit’s earlier decision striking down a similar ban in Virginia.

“The end game is clear — marriage will soon be available for same-sex couples in South Carolina. This is a great victory for same-sex couples and their families because it removes one more hurdle to finally walking down the aisle,” said Beth Littrell, senior attorney in Lambda Legal’s Southern Regional Office based in Atlanta.

“We urge the attorney general  to stop trying to delay the inevitable — their actions are damaging to families they were elected to protect,” said South Carolina Equality lawyer Malissa Burnette, a partner at Callison Tighe & Robinson.

“We are ecstatic as we get ready to go pick up our license at noon on Thursday,” said Lambda Legal client Colleen Condon.

Lambda Legal and South Carolina Equality represent Condon and Nichols Bleckley, who applied and paid for a marriage license in Charleston County soon after the U.S. Supreme Court last month declined to review rulings out of three federal appellate circuits — including the 4th Circuit — invalidating discriminatory marriage bans in five states.

Before they received their marriage license, South Carolina’s attorney general asked the South Carolina State Supreme Court to step in and halt the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The court effectively stopped state court judges from issuing marriage licenses or weighing in on marriage equality pending an order from federal court.

Last week U.S. District Court Richard Gergel struck down the marriage ban, but delayed enforcement of his order for one week — until noon on Nov. 20 — to give the state a chance to appeal.

Today’s ruling affirmed the order allowing marriages to begin.

Before crucial meeting, Catholic cardinals debate marriage

The battle lines are being drawn before a major church meeting on family issues that represents a key test for Pope Francis.

Five high-ranking cardinals have taken one of Francis’ favorite theologians to task over an issue dear to the pope’s heart: Whether Catholics who divorce and remarry without an annulment can receive Communion.

They have written a book, “Remaining in the Truth of Christ,” to rebut German Cardinal Walter Kasper, whom Francis praised in his first Sunday blessing after he was elected pope as “a great theologian” and subsequently entrusted with a keynote speech to set the agenda for the two-year study on marriage, divorce and family life that opens Oct. 5.

Kasper, for a decade the Vatican’s top official dealing with the Orthodox and Jews, delivered his remarks to cardinals earlier this year on the issues to be discussed during the synod. At the pope’s request, he asked whether these divorced and remarried Catholics might be allowed in limited cases to receive the Eucharist after a period of penance.

The outcry that ensued has turned the 81-year-old Kasper into the biggest lightning rod for internal debate that the Catholic Church has seen in years.

Conservatives, including the five cardinal authors, have vehemently opposed Kasper’s suggestion as contrary to Christ’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.

The second most powerful man in the Vatican has backed their view: Cardinal George Pell, one of Francis’ key advisers, wrote in another new book that debating something that is so peripheral to begin with and so clear in church teaching amounts to “a counterproductive and futile search for short-term consolations.”

“Every opponent of Christianity wants the church to capitulate on this issue,” Pell wrote. “We should speak clearly, because the sooner the wounded, the lukewarm and the outsiders realize that substantial doctrinal and pastoral changes are impossible, the more the hostile disappointment (which must follow the reassertion of doctrine) will be anticipated and dissipated.”

Francis, however, seems to think otherwise. He praised Kasper’s speech, calling it “profound theology” that did him much good and represented a true love for the church.

Church insiders say Francis is none too pleased by the war of words that has ensued, such that he instructed one of the book authors – Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, the Vatican’s top doctrinal chief – not to promote it.

The unusually raw and public debate has crystalized the growing discomfort among conservatives to some of Francis’ words and deeds, and sets the stage for a likely heated discussion on family issues.

Church teaching holds that Catholics who don’t have their first marriage annulled – or declared null by a church tribunal – before remarrying can’t participate fully in the church’s sacraments because they are essentially living in sin and committing adultery. Such annulments are often impossible to get or can take years to process, leaving untold numbers of Catholics unable to receive Communion.

Francis has asserted church doctrine on the matter but has called for a more merciful, pastoral approach. He reportedly told an Argentine woman earlier this year that she was free to receive Communion even though her husband’s first marriage was never annulled.

Knowing the issue is divisive, though, he has convened the whole church to discuss it.

The new book asserts there really is no better solution – and no grounds to argue for it since Catholic doctrine is clear. Aside from Mueller, the authors include another high-ranking Vatican official: Cardinal Raymond Burke, the American head of the Vatican’s supreme court.

“These are not a series of rules made up by the church; they constitute divine law, and the church cannot change them,” the book says. Kasper’s assertions, reading of history and suggestions for debate “reinforce misleading understandings of both fidelity and mercy.”

Kasper has agreed there can be no change to church doctrine and no sweeping, across-the-board allowances. But he has said the matter must be looked at on a case-by-case basis, that mercy is God’s greatest attribute and the key to Christian existence, and that God always gives faithful Catholics a new chance if they repent.

It is rare for cardinals to publicly and pointedly accuse one another of being wrong, and rarer still for a cardinal to question the pope, as Burke has done.

Regarding the purported phone call to the Argentine woman, Burke told the EWTN Catholic channel: “I wouldn’t for a moment impute that Pope Francis intended to give a signal about church doctrine by calling someone on the phone. This is just absurd.”

Burke has also questioned Francis’ first encyclical on the excesses of capitalism and obliquely criticized Francis’ decision to not focus on abortion.

Francis last year removed Burke, a key figure in the U.S. culture wars over abortion and gay marriage, as a member of the powerful Congregation for Bishops. A leading Vatican insider has reported that his days at the Vatican high court are numbered.

Hawaii lawmakers send marriage equality bill to governor

The Hawaii Senate has given final approval in a special session vote on Nov. 12 to legislation that will allow same-sex couples in the state to marry beginning Dec. 2.

The Senate vote affirmed a bill amended and approved by the House earlier this month. 

Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie called the special session and is expected to quickly sign the bill into law. Hawaii Attorney General David Louie has said the measure is constitutionally sound.

The Senate vote was 19-4, with two senators excused. More than half of the Senate spoke in favor of the bill during the debate into the afternoon.

“I want to congratulate the Hawaii State Legislature on passing legislation in support of marriage equality,” President Barack Obama said in a statement released by the White House. “With today’s vote, Hawaii joins a growing number of states that recognize that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters should be treated fairly and equally under the law.  Whenever freedom and equality are affirmed, our country becomes stronger.  By giving loving gay and lesbian couples the right to marry if they choose, Hawaii exemplifies the values we hold dear as a nation. I’ve always been proud to have been born in Hawaii, and today’s vote makes me even prouder.  And Michelle and I extend our best wishes to all those in Hawaii whose families will now be given the security and respect they deserve.”

Hawaii is the third state in just two months — and the sixth state this year — to legalize same-sex marriage. Illinois lawmakers finalized legislation earlier this month that needs only the signature of the Democratic governor.

And in October, same-sex couples began marrying in New Jersey.

But the contemporary push for marriage equality began in Hawaii in the early 1990s, with a landmark lawsuit filed by three same-sex couples who applied for marriage licenses and were denied.

Hawaii was close to fully recognizing the rights of same-sex couples to marry when voters enacted a constitutional amendment authorizing state lawmakers to pass a bill defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

“One of the early milestones in the freedom to marry movement was the lawsuit filed in Hawaii 23 years ago in 1991,” said Marriage Equality USA legal and policy director John Lewis. “The people of Hawai’i never gave up, and their long road to equality will make the wedding bells ring a bit louder and the wedding cake taste that much sweeter when the first marriages begin in Hawaii.”

Responding to the news that the Senate gave a final OK to the bill, Jennifer Pizer of Lambda Legal said, “Marriage equality has come at last to the place that first showed America what should be offered, with a smile and aloha, everywhere. Twenty years ago, the Supreme Court of Hawaii ruled that denying marriage licenses to lesbian and gay couples appeared to be sex discrimination. Today, Hawaii legislators fulfilled the promise of that first ruling and have made Hawai’i truly the Aloha State.”

Lambda helped draft the legislation, said Pizer, adding, “We congratulate the tireless community leaders and allies who fought hard for its passage, and thank the steadfast elected officials and their dedicated staff who made possible this victory for love and fairness.”

Evan Wolfson of the Freedom to Marry campaign, was a co-counsel on the Hawaii marriage case in the 1990s. He said in an email to supporters, “Twenty years ago, Hawaii launched the global movement for the freedom to marry. After two decades of work, it’s especially sweet to write to you with the news that at last we’ve won the freedom to marry in the state where it all started.”

Wolfson added, “Coming right after thrilling wins in Illinois and New Jersey, our Hawaii triumph really underscores how far we’ve come.”

The number of states where same-sex couples can legally marry is now 16. Same-sex couples can also marry in the District of Columbia and have married in New Mexico and Pennsylvania.

North Carolina attorney general comes out for gay marriage

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper has revealed that he supports same-sex marriage, and he says his personal views won’t prevent him from vigorously defending North Carolina’s constitutional amendment against such marriages in a lawsuit.

When Cooper opposed passage of the May 2012 amendment prohibiting same-sex marriages, which passed by a comfortable margin, he spoke mostly about the lack of clarity in its language, and had never addressed publicly his views on the issue itself.

But when asked over the weekend by The Associated Press in an interview whether he’d like to see the amendment repealed or a law passed to sanction same-sex marriage, Cooper said: “I support marriage equality.”

Cooper is named as a defendant and is the state’s lead designated attorney in a lawsuit filed by several same-sex couples that was recently expanded to challenge the constitutionality of the amendment in light of a U.S. Supreme Court decision over the summer.

His announcement worries social conservative groups that supported the amendment’s passage but aren’t sure that Cooper will robustly defend the state in court. They are particularly unhappy with Cooper for agreeing to speak at next month’s annual fundraiser for the gay-rights organization Equality North Carolina. While not a plaintiff in the lawsuit, Equality NC lobbies for expanding rights for gays and lesbians.

Cooper’s planned Nov. 9 speech draws “into serious question the intent of the attorney general with respect to the lawsuit,” North Carolina Family Policy Council executive director John Rustin said.

“We believe it is inappropriate for him to participate in that event in that fashion while he is … the lead defense attorney in a case that is attempting to overturn our marriage laws, which is a major goal and agenda of Equality North Caroilna,” Rustin said in an interview.

Cooper, a Democrat who is laying the groundwork for a bid for governor in 2016, told the AP he speaks “with many diverse groups all over North Carolina about issues facing this state, and this is no different.” Equality NC leaders asked him to speak, Cooper added.

Equality NC executive director Chris Sgro was ecstatic hearing of Cooper’s personal support for expanding marriage to include same-sex couples, which is now granted in 13 states and the District of Columbia.

Sgro said Cooper “has long been an advocate for equal rights for all people and we applaud him for publicly aligning” with a “fast-growing majority” of state residents who support legal recognition for gay couples.

Although 61 percent of voters said yes to the constitutional amendment, Sgro dismissed the Family Policy Council as “a small minority” whose opposition to Cooper’s gala appearance will energize Equality NC supporters.

Cooper, now in his 13th year as attorney general, said his office has successfully defended other laws from challenges with which he didn’t necessarily agree. Cooper and other state attorneys last month filed a motion to have a judge dismiss the federal lawsuit, which also seeks to overturn a state law that says same-sex couples cannot be recognized as equal parents of children.

“You’re not going to hear me talk about the legality or constitutionality of any of these statutes that are under litigation. I think it’s important for me not to do that,” Cooper said before addressing a Democratic Party function in Greensboro. “However, I will engage in public policy discussions and I want to do that.”

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and GOP legislative leaders have expressed apprehension about Cooper’s legal role.

The General Assembly passed a law this year giving itself the authority to defend itself in court with its own lawyers, rather than relying on Cooper’s office. And McCrory announced he had hired a private attorney to work with Cooper defending litigation challenging an election overhaul bill that in part requires photo identification to vote in person in 2016.

McCrory general counsel Bob Stephens told reporters two weeks ago that Cooper’s strong personal opposition to the elections law “compromised his ability to represent the state of North Carolina.” Cooper said he can set aside his personal views to carry out his constitutional duties as the state’s top lawyer.

Cooper’s office didn’t object in July to the American Civil Liberties Union and attorneys for six same-sex couples who sued over the adoption law to amend the lawsuit to challenge their prohibition to get married.

In last month’s dismissal motion, state attorneys argued that regulation of marriage and child adoption are traditionally reserved to the states without federal intervention. Same-sex marriage or adoption rights are not fundamental rights, according to the motion.

“The right for a man and a woman to marry is fundamental, the right to other unions, including same-sex marriage, is not,” reads the motion, submitted Sept. 11 on behalf of Cooper by four other state attorneys.

Hawaii prepares for special session on marriage equality

Aloha lawmakers. Democratic Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie is calling legislators to Honolulu for a special session in late October to take up his marriage equality bill.

“The decision to call a special session is based on doing what is right to create equity for all in Hawaii,” the governor said on Sept. 9.

In the mid-1990s, the 50th state in the union was poised to become the first jurisdiction in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. A case filed by three same-sex couples seeking to marry had resulted in the state Supreme Court finding that barring gays and lesbians from marriage violated the state constitution and amounted to sex discrimination.

The Supreme Court remanded the case to a trial court, where a judge found that the state of Hawaii lacked a compelling interest in denying marriage licenses to gay couples.

But before the legal dispute ended, Hawaii voters, in a campaign heavily funded with money from the Mormon church, approved a constitutional amendment empowering the Legislature to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

Now Abercrombie wants the Legislature to remove the gender restrictions on marriage.

He said he called for a special session after talking with aides, lawmakers, activists and citizens.

“As a former legislator, I have great respect for the Legislature and the legislative process. The merits of holding a special session include the opportunity for the Legislature to focus squarely on this important issue, without having to divert attention to the hundreds of other bills introduced during a regular session,” the governor said.

Earlier this summer, Abercrombie offered a marriage equality bill based on a Senate proposal. The measure guarantees that a religious official will not be forced to officiate at a same-sex wedding and a religious institution will not be required to host a same-sex wedding.

The governor’s office said the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision clearing the way for federal recognition of same-sex marriages created a can’t wait situation for Hawaii. Same-sex couples there have marriage-like protections through state-sanctioned civil unions but those relationships are not recognized by the federal government.

Steven Levinson at Equality Hawaii and Hawaii United for Marriage said the votes look close.

“Since this morning, we’ve counted the votes over and over again and I won’t sugarcoat it: It’s going to be extremely close, Levinson said on Sept. 9. “Several lawmakers still haven’t decided which way they’ll vote. If we’re going to win their support, it’s going to take the most rigorous lobbying and grassroots organizing we’ve ever run. We have to mobilize tens of thousands of supporters to take action in key districts across the state.”

If lawmakers pass the equality bill, same-sex couples could begin marrying in Hawaii on Nov. 18.

The special session will be taking place just days after Illinois lawmakers gather for their fall veto session, which might include consideration of a marriage equality bill that passed the Senate but stalled in the House.

Illinois equality advocates will march on Springfield on Oct. 22 to call for passage of the bill.

Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage. This summer, officials in eight counties in New Mexico and one county in Pennsylvania began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Freedom fall

Two states – Hawaii and Illinois – could pass marriage equality bills next month. Hawaii will hold a special session on Oct. 28. Illinois lawmakers gather for a fall veto session beginning Oct. 22.

Also, on Oct. 23, the New Mexico Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments over whether same-sex marriage should be legal throughout the state.

Village People cowboy Randy Jones to marry partner of 30 years

Village People cowboy Randy Jones is marrying his partner of 30 years on Sept. 13 in New York, according to TMZ.

According to the celebrity website, Jones is stretching his wedding to Will Gregga into a three-day disco affair.

Day one will reportedly include “a public proposal” in front of friends and family in Columbus Circle.” Day two will feature the wedding ceremony at New York City Hall, with each man’s mother witnessing the event. Following the “I dos,” there’s to be a party at a “trendy rooftop bar” with “special guest host Warrington Gillette, whom the couple credits as “Jason” from ‘Friday the 13th Part 2.'”

On day there, there will be a banquet in Little Italy.

Jones and the Village People were icons of the disco era. Their hits “Macho Man” and “YMCA” have become anthems at sporting events, where audiences wave and sing along without realizing the lyrics are coded odes to the sexually charged gay life in San Francisco during the 1970s.

Gay couples rush to be first to wed in Uruguay

A gay couple showed up before dawn to be the first to register under Uruguay’s new “marriage equality law,” but another pair was married first on Aug. 5 after getting special permission for a rushed wedding at a hospital where one of the men is dying of cancer.

“It was very emotional,” said Luisa Salaberry, the civil registry worker who officiated at the hospital wedding.

She said that the ceremony was intimate and that the government waived the usual 10 days of bureaucracy because the patient’s cancer was so advanced.

“They had been waiting for the law to take effect so that they could get married,” said Salaberry, who did not identify the couple.

Civil Registry Director Adolfo Orellano confirmed that the hospital ceremony was Uruguay’s first same-sex wedding.

Earlier on Aug. 5, TV producer Sergio Miranda and artist Rodrigo Borda, partners for 14 years, were the first to register.

“This is an historic day for us and for the country,” Borda said. “No longer will there be first- and second-class citizens. This will be seen in many countries where this option still isn’t possible, and hopefully help people in those places live more freely.”

Uruguay is the third country in the Americas, after Canada and Argentina, to legalize gay marriage. President Jose Mujica’s government also decriminalized abortion and expects senate approval soon for a government-managed marijuana industry.

“This will help so that many people can say, `I went with my boyfriend to walk in the park,’ and not have to invent that they have a girlfriend or something like that,” Miranda said.

“There are people who constantly live a double-life,” Borda added. “That’s why we’ve made this so visible, to show that it can be done. We’re in a country that has a very open mind right now – you can see it in the people and in the street.”

Borda said U.S. Ambassador to Uruguay Julissa Reynoso is a friend who has been invited to the couple’s wedding.

The U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires announced an “LGBT Go” campaign, inviting people to apply for up to 60,000 pesos (about $11,000) in grants for projects that protect and strengthen gay rights in Argentina.