From coast-to-coast, openly gay and lesbian members of state legislatures are asking their colleagues to support expanding equality for LGBT Americans, and in many cases they are leading efforts to enact legislation that recognizes same-sex partners and their families, according to an Associated Press analysis this week:
Of America’s 7,382 state legislators, only 85 are openly gay or lesbian. They are, however, playing an outsized and often impassioned role when the agenda turns to recognizing same-sex couples with civil unions or full marriage rights.
In Hawaii and Illinois, gay state representatives were lead sponsors of civil union bills signed into law earlier this year. In Maryland and Rhode Island, gay lawmakers are co-sponsoring pending bills that would legalize same-sex marriage. In New York, a gay senator, Tom Duane, is preparing to be lead sponsor of a marriage bill in his chamber later this session.
“For my colleagues, knowing that I am not allowed to marry the person that I love and want to marry, that’s very powerful,” said Duane, a Democrat from Manhattan. “It’s more difficult for them to take for granted the right they have to marry when I don’t have it.”
In Maryland a final vote on the pending marriage equality bill could come as early as this week, so the six openly gay and lesbian members of the state’s House of Delegates (pictured) penned a deeply personal appeal to their colleagues, according to the Washington Post. The letter reads in part:
For us, as for all of Maryland’s families, a marriage license will mean far more than the paper on which it is printed. For us, it means the possibility of shared health insurance, more stable homes for our children, and fewer conversations about legal documents with attorneys. We would never want the responsibility of voting on you and your spouse’s will, power of attorney, or advanced medical directive, but you’ve been put in that position this week for our families. We have faith that when faced with the option, you will vote to allow same-sex couples the opportunity to fulfill the commitments of mutual support and shared responsibility that we have already made to one another and to our children.
In Colorado yesterday a civil unions bill, sponsored by openly gay state legislators, advanced out of a state senate committee.
In Washington State, out lesbian State Rep. Laurie Jinkins sponsored and helped pass a bill that would recognize legally married same-sex couples under the state’s domestic partnership law.
In February, Hawaii House Majority Leader Blake Oshiro, who is openly gay, sponsored and helped pass a sweeping civil unions bill, which was signed into law.
In January, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed a civil unions bill that was sponsored by openly gay State Rep. Greg Harris.
“Gay lawmakers are people, as opposed to issues. The impact of having one of your colleagues directly affected by the legislation on the table is very powerful,” said Chuck Wolfe, president and CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, according to the AP report.