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Gay marriage returns to the political spotlight

By David Crary

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 25 2012 2:01 p.m. MST

MARYLAND: In contrast to Christie, Maryland's Catholic governor — Democrat Martin O'Malley — supports gay marriage. Unlike last year, when a marriage bill stalled in the House of Delegates, O'Malley is now making the issue one of his top legislative priorities. He and his allies hope to broaden support among lawmakers and the public by making clear in the new bill that religious freedom will be protected. Public opinion could be crucial, because opponents of gay marriage are expected to seek a referendum in November to overturn a marriage bill if one passes in the legislature.

WASHINGTON: Like O'Malley, Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire has strongly endorsed a pending gay-marriage bill, which received its first legislative hearing this week. Based on public commitments from lawmakers, the bill has enough votes to win passage. However, as in Maryland, opponents are poised to petition for a referendum challenging the law.

NEW HAMPSHIRE: A bill pending in a House committee would repeal the state's same-sex marriage law and replace it with civil unions for any unmarried adults. It would not invalidate the same-sex marriages already legalized since 2009. The fate of the bill is uncertain, facing possible revisions before a vote and a promised veto by Democratic Gov. John Lynch if it does pass. If it gets that far, and lawmakers override a veto, the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union has indicated it would challenge the new law in court.

MAINE: Gay marriage supporters in Maine have spent several months assessing whether they would seek a referendum in November to legalize same-sex marriage. Their decision will be announced Thursday, and national gay-rights leaders believe the campaign will be launched. Maine is the only state in New England that doesn't allow either gay marriage or civil unions. Its lawmakers approved a gay marriage law in 2009, but it was overturned months later by a statewide referendum.

NORTH CAROLINA and MINNESOTA:

Voters in 30 states have approved constitutional amendments aimed at solidifying bans on gay marriage; Minnesota and North Carolina could join those ranks if measures placed on the ballot by Republican-controlled legislatures win approval later this year. Neither Minnesota nor North Carolina allow gay marriage now, but supporters say the amendments are needed to prevent judges or lawmakers from changing that policy in the future. The North Carolina amendment also would prevent the state from recognizing civil unions or domestic partnerships.

In all the showdown states, national advocacy groups are expected to be active on both sides. The Human Rights Campaign, for example, has promised to provide funding, strategic advice and field staff for the various campaigns supporting same-sex marriage.

On the other side, the National Organization for Marriage is vowing a multistate effort, including promises of financial support in the primaries to defeat any Republican lawmakers who support gay marriage in Washington.

Though several major national polls now show that a slight majority of Americans support same-sex marriage, National Organization for Marriage president Brian Brown predicts his side will continue its winning streak and prevail in any state referendums that are held this fall.

"There's a myth that history is on a trajectory moving toward same-sex marriage," Brown said. "There is no such momentum."

Online:

Human Rights Campaign: http://www.hrc.org/

National Organization for Marriage: http://bit.ly/14OBri

David Crary can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/CraryAP

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