Gay-marriage campaign heads to state courts

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The Supreme Court’s rulings on same-sex marriage are barely a month old, but they have generated a wave of lawsuits and political battles as gay-rights supporters continue their quest to hoist the rainbow flag in every state.

In Missouri, the state Supreme Court this week said it wants to hear more legal arguments, in light of the high court’s Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) ruling, in the case of a deceased state trooper whose surviving same-sex partner has been denied benefits.

New Mexico’s attorney general, a Democrat, said this week that he would not defend the state’s law banning same-sex unions. Five years ago, the state approved a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage.

In Ohio, two residents are demanding that their marriage in Maryland be recognized by the state as one of the partners faces a potentially fatal illness.

The high court’s rulings striking down part of DOMA and effectively allowing California to resume same-sex marriages have shown little sign of ending the national debate. Same-sex marriage is still against the law in more than three-fifths of the states.

Although the high court struck down part of the federal law, the justices stopped well short of voiding state-level laws and constitutional statutes banning same-sex marriage across the country. Also left for the courts and state governments to decide is how same-sex marriages legal in one state will be treated in a state where such unions are expressly banned.

Activists on both sides say the battle — both legal and political — is far from over.

“Freedom to Marry’s goal is simple: Win marriage nationwide,” said Evan Wolfson, a longtime gay-rights activist and founder of the marriage advocacy group, which seeks legalization in a dozen or more states by 2016.

Traditional-values groups acknowledge that they are facing cultural headwinds, but they also insist the outcome is far from settled.

Most gay-marriage battles now will be in “more conservative states, where we fully expect to prevail,” Frank Schubert, political director of the National Organization for Marriage, said Wednesday.

“A couple of pitched battles remain — especially in Illinois,” he said, but “we are working hard with African-American pastors to preserve marriage” as well as working with allies to respond to all court battles and campaigns.

The Supreme Court’s twin rulings June 26 overturned a part of DOMA and effectively cleared the way for same-sex marriage — and the battle over such unions — to resume in California. The rulings’ effects on the 37 states that do not permit same-sex marriage now is being tested.

Ending a long losing streak at the ballot box prior to 2012, gay-rights allies are pressing their advantage amid rising public support and a cascade of favorable court rulings and political votes. This year alone, three state legislatures approved same-sex marriage and California became the 13th state to offer gay nuptials days after the Supreme Court issued its ruling against voter-approved Proposition 8.

Freedom to Marry has named Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey and Oregon as its immediate targets. All of these states have civil union or domestic partnership laws that can convert to same-sex marriage. In states including Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, activists are laying the groundwork to repeal amendments or laws prohibiting same-sex marriage.

Legal battles

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