Sunday, January 2, 2011

Optimism in 2011

The equality glass is certainly half full, and things are getting better all the time.  Here are some key places on the equal rights front to watch in 2011:

NEPAL.  Upon completion of its new constitution by 28 May, 2011, same-sex marriage will become legal for the first time ever in an Asian country, in Nepal.  Fingers are crossed that they will actually have the constitution ratified by that time; they missed their last proposed deadline for completion, which was supposed to be June 2010.  I always thought progressive Taiwan would be the first in Asia to have marriage equality, but sorry Taiwan, you're getting passed over by Nepal!

FINLAND.  Finland, which has already had a strong civil partnership law since 2002, has announced it will be submitting a marriage equality bill in the Eduskunta -- its national legislature -- after the April 2011 elections (for the autumn 2011 session).  If all goes smoothly (and it likely will because a majority of Finnish parties support the measure), marriage equality will be signed into law by winter of 2011 or early 2012.  Finland would then join its Scandinavian neighbors Sweden, Norway, and Iceland, which already have marriage equality.

LUXEMBOURG.  Like Finland, 2011 will likely see marriage equality in Luxembourg as well.  A same-sex marriage and adoption bill was submitted in Luxembourg, the Châmber vun Députéirten, in autumn of 2010.  After legislative procedures and debate, it is expected that the bill will pass in 2011.  The current Prime Minister is publicly supportive of the measure, and over 60% of Luxembourgers also support marriage equality and equal adoption rights.

LIECHTENSTEIN.   This beautiful little Western European nation tucked between Switzerland and Austria has passed a Civil Partnership Act as of March 2011.

FRANCE.  This one was a surprise.  France has had a civil partnership law (known as PACS, or pacte civil de solidarite) since 1999, but now a case is before the French Constitutional Court which will determine if full marriage equality will be coming to the country in 2011.  Several French same-sex couples had sued the government, claiming that their right to marry the person they want is being denied, and that restricting personal liberties goes against the French constitution.

The case made it to the Constitutional Court on Nov. 16, 2010.  The court has three months to make its ruling.  French legal analysts are split as to whether they believe the nine-member court will rule in favor of marriage equality or not.  The decision could really go in either direction, or the court could simply say it's not their decision to make and defer it instead to parliament to deal with when it sees fit.  But we'll cross our fingers and wish same-sex couples in France bonne chance in the new year!

Update, Feb. 5, 2011:  The Constitutional Court has decided it will not be the final voice on this issue.  It said that French law is set by the parliament, and they will leave any future decisions concerning marriage with them.  Disappointing, but not a huge surprise.  The Parti Socialiste (Socialist Party of France), a major political party in the country, has announced its intention to submit a marriage equality bill in French Parliament sometime this year.

SLOVENIA.  In this southern European nation, which used to be a part of Yugoslavia, same-sex couples have had the right to enter into civil partnerships since 2006.  The Državni zbor, or National Assembly, is currently taking up the issue of same-sex marriage and may approve it in 2011, though it is seen as a bit of an uphill battle.  It has, however, already passed the first reading in the upper chamber of the Assembly.

NEW YORK, MARYLAND, RHODE ISLAND, CALIFORNIA, and COLORADO.  In the U.S., the state-by-state tug of war between progress and status quo will continue in the new year.  The state legislatures of New York, Maryland, and Rhode Island are all likely to approve marriage equality bills in 2011, while the Illinois legislature has already passed a civil union bill in November 2010.  It is slated to come into effect June 1, 2011.  Update June 2011 New York, click here.

Andrew Cuomo, New York's new governor, says that marriage equality is a priority.  Rhode Island's new governor is also steadfast in his support for marriage equality.  Maryland's governor is also supportive of marriage equality.  The Maryland bill will be introduced in the state House during the week of January 24th.

Hawaii's new governor is in full favor of civil unions, and said he will sign a civil union bill into law if the legislature passes one again.  Hawaii's legislature passed a civil union bill last April, but the governor (who has since been voted out of office) didn't approve and vetoed the bill.

Update, Feb. 12, 2011:   The Hawaii House of Representatives has passed the bill to legalize civil unions.  The Hawaii Senate already passed it in January.  It will soon be signed by Governor Abercrombie to become law.  Congrats, Hawaii!

Colorado will see a civil union bill introduced into its state legislature in 2011, but at present it is a toss-up as to whether it will succeed or not.  The State Senate is progressive, but the State House has more conservatives than progressives and they will be the hurdle.  A 2010 poll showed that 72% of Coloradans support legal recognition for same-sex couples.  There have already been some complaints over the proposed legislation coming from the LGBT community in Colorado, saying that working toward civil unions is incrementalist.  In other words they mean that "civil unions are so 1990s", and instead of pushing for civil unions legislators should be making a push for full marriage equality.  I tend to agree, but if marriage equality cannot muster enough votes to pass at this time, civil unions are certainly better than nothing.

Additionally, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is likely to reinstate marriage equality in California by the end of 2011, as the state's same-sex marriage ban (passed by Proposition 8) was found in federal court to be unconstitutional.  Whether the matter will then go the US Supreme Court (with possible nation-wide implications for marriage equality) is anyone's guess.

Furthermore, at the start of this new year the state of New Mexico has announced that it now recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries, the same policy as New York, Rhode Island, and Maryland.

This state-by-state stuff in the US makes my head spin, but it's also politically interesting.  For the sake of the rights and dignity of all Americans, however, I hope they get a nationwide policy soon.

BRAZIL. Thousands of same-sex couples in Brazil await a ruling from their nation's Supreme Federal Court in a case that could decide if marriage equality will come to Brazil in 2011.  Brazilian federal law already recognizes stable same-sex unions as common law or de facto partnerships, which entitles the couples to many rights on par with opposite-sex couples.  In December of 2010, a law was passed granting Social Security benefits to same-sex couples, and in January 2011 Brazilian authorities gave a green light for same-sex couples to qualify for in vitro fertilization services.  No formal civil union bill, however, has been passed by the legislature yet.  If the Court rules in favor of same-sex couples, they would order that the legislature either pass a civil union law or amend the current marriage act to open up marriage to same-sex couples on par with opposite-sex ones.  Update:  May 2011 Brazil, click here.

URUGUAY, PARAGUAY, and CHILE.  After Argentina became the first South American nation to have marriage equality in 2010, both Uruguay and Paraguay will have same-sex marriage bills presented in their national legislatures as well.  Neighboring Chile will have a civil union bill presented in its legislature.  The possible outcomes of the bills are unknown, but LGBT rights activists are hopeful that marriage equality has a very real shot in Paraguay.

THE EUROPEAN UNION.  Europe-wide marriage equality is getting closer and closer, as evidenced by a resolution that was adopted in the European Parliament in late November of 2010.   The resolution, which now must be hashed out among the EU member states and the European Commission before coming into force, will require all member states to recognize marriages and civil unions performed in another.  At present a marriage certificate is recognized by other countries when a couple move abroad, but the same isn't true for other legal documents, including civil unions.

AUSTRALIA.  I put Australia at the bottom of the list because it's actually the least likely to achieve marriage equality in 2011.  However, during its 2011 conference it is very likely that the Labor Party will vote to include marriage equality in its national platform.  If that happens, Labor Party members of parliament will be voting in favor of marriage equality (or at least be allowed a conscience vote) the next time such a bill comes up.  In that case, the bill would likely pass.  There are more and more MPs coming out in favor of marriage equality, including some conservative ones.

Since the Labor Party's next national conference won't be until December of 2011, marriage equality is very unlikely in the new year.  The motion would most likely come up for a parliamentary vote in 2012.  On the state level, however, look for South Australia, Tasmania, and Victoria to legalize same-sex marriage in their states in 2011.

Happy New Year, everyone! 


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