INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — In one of the most conservative states in the nation, supporters of gay marriage are pondering the unthinkable: a victory, or at least not a loss.
NM same-sex marriage ruling comes amid long wait
RUSSELL CONTRERAS, Associated Press
ALUBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Miriam Rand and Ono Porter were having lunch when the couple got a call that they'd been waiting for, for three decades: New Mexico's Supreme Court had just issued a ruling on same-sex marriage.
But they didn't have the details.
The plaintiffs in the same-sex marriage case finished their New Mexico green chile and then began checking their phones for updates. They soon started receiving congratulations from friends and family. The state's highest court declared it was unconstitutional to deny marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.
"I was thrilled," Porter said Thursday, hours after the court decision was announced. "It is most meaningful in terms of really affirming our love and commitment to one another."
Barring couples like Porter, 67, and Rand, 64, from getting married violates the equal protection clause of the state constitution, the court ruled.
"We hold that the State of New Mexico is constitutionally required to allow same-gender couples to marry and must extend to them the rights, protections and responsibilities that derive from civil marriage under New Mexico law," Justice Edward L. Chavez wrote.
With that ruling, New Mexico joined 16 other states and the District of Columbia in allowing gay marriage either through legislation, court rulings or voter referendums in a trend that has dramatically shifted in just a few years nationally.
"At first, I never thought I'd see this in my lifetime," Rand said. "But over the last few years you began noticing a change in public opinion and I thought...maybe."
Before the ruling, eight of New Mexico's 33 counties had already started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
County officials asked the high court to clarify the law and establish a uniform state policy on gay marriage. Historically, county clerks have denied marriage licenses to same-sex couples because state statutes include a marriage license application with sections for male and female applicants.
The Democratic-controlled Legislature repeatedly has turned down proposals for domestic partnerships for same-sex couples and a constitutional amendment that would have allowed voters to decide whether to legalize gay marriage. Measures to ban same-sex marriage also have failed.
Advocacy groups and supporters hailed the decision.
"I can't get past happy, happy, happy at the Supreme Court's unanimous decision that rules in favor of freedom and equality for everyone to marry the person they love," Santa Fe Mayor David Coss said in a statement.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the National Center for Lesbian Rights represented same-sex couples in the Supreme Court case. They contended gay marriage must be allowed because of constitutional guarantees of equal protection under the law and a state constitutional prohibition against discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Meanwhile groups like the Flora Vista-based Voices for Family Values vowed to fight on. The group said its members already are gathering signatures for petitions to present to lawmakers during the upcoming session in January.
"The Catholic Church respects and loves the gay and lesbian members of our community," the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement. "We will continue to promote Catholic teaching of the Biblical definition of marriage to be that of one man and one woman."
Under the ruling, clergy who disagree with same-sex marriage can decline to perform wedding ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples.
Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican and who has opposed same-sex marriage, said she would have preferred voters deciding the issue rather than the courts. But she urged New Mexicans to "respect one another in their discourse" and turn their focus onto other issues facing the state.
"As we move forward, I am hopeful that we will not be divided, as we must come together to tackle very pressing issues, like reforming education and growing our economy, in the weeks and months ahead," Martinez said.
A proposal to amend Indiana's constitution to ban same-sex marriage has sparked a flurry of phone banks and appeals to big-money donors as the state prepares to become a 2014 battleground on an issue that has largely been decided in other states.
Indiana is one of just four states that ban gay marriage in statute only; 29 others have constitutional bans. But none of the other states with statutory bans — Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wyoming — face the pressure in place in Indiana, where lawmakers must approve a proposed ban and send it to voters in November unless they want to restart the process from scratch.
That the issue's fate is even in question is remarkable in Indiana, which in recent years has become a model of conservative causes ranging from school vouchers to right to work. In 2011, state lawmakers overwhelmingly voted in favor of the amendment in the first of two required votes, and with Republican supermajorities in both legislative chambers, its final passage seemed a slam-dunk.
But the tides have shifted. Voters in Maryland, Maine, Washington and Illinois have approved gay marriage, and polls have shown increasing numbers of Indiana voters oppose a constitutional ban even though most still oppose gay marriage.
"Everyone else in the country is moving toward more equality. Indiana is kind of the last stand of folks that are trying to put something like this into their constitution," said Megan Robertson, a veteran Indiana Republican operative tapped to manage Freedom Indiana, a bipartisan coalition working to block the ban.
Opponents have argued for years that the constitutional ban is unnecessary and will paint the state as intolerant and hurt businesses' efforts to recruit top talent. They're especially concerned about a provision in the proposed amendment that also bans civil unions and employee benefits for same-sex couples.
Volunteers with Freedom Indiana are staffing nightly phone banks and calling lawmakers who supported the amendment the first time in hopes of changing their minds before the Legislature reconvenes next month. Top companies including drugmaker Eli Lilly & Co. and engine-maker Cummins Inc. have contributed $100,000 each to the campaign. And a recent fundraiser featuring Mary Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney who has been a vocal supporter of same-sex marriage, was sponsored by some of the state's top GOP money men, including the campaign finance chairman for Republican Gov. Mike Pence.
Phil Cooper, a 63-year-old retired bus driver from Bloomington whose adult daughter has sometimes identified as a lesbian, said he has been making phone calls for Freedom Indiana two to three times each week since September.
"It really, really troubles me to see her being singled out because of that single characteristic," he said of his daughter.
He said he is "cautiously optimistic" about blocking the amendment and said getting more information out about its effects, including the ban on employer benefits for same-sex pairs, has helped turn the momentum.
At least two lawmakers who voted for the amendment in 2011 have said they will oppose it next year. Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said last year that placing the ban in the constitution would not be a "productive" use of time for state lawmakers. And state Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, told The Shelbyville News last month that he made a mistake in supporting the amendment last time and "to put that amendment in the constitution and to lock down generations with bigotry is wrong."
Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said he still supports the marriage ban but has been listening to his two sons, who oppose the measure. And while House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, says he expects a vote by lawmakers on the issue next year, he notably left the issue out of the House Republican Caucus' 2014 legislative agenda.
Supporters of the amendment, who have distributed fliers about the issue to churches, contend a constitutional ban would prevent future lawmakers from changing the law. They say Freedom Indiana's business argument is a scare tactic and point to reports showing top job growth coming mostly in states that already have constitutional bans on gay marriage.
Even if national attitudes on the issue have changed, they say, Indiana residents still firmly oppose gay marriage and should be allowed to weigh in.
"The future of marriage belongs in the hands of voters," said Micah Clark, executive director of American Family Association of Indiana.
Pence, who is well-known for his social and religious conservatism, says he supports traditional marriage but has largely stayed on the sidelines.
The outcome of the debate could hinge on which side winds up with the most clout: the fledgling Freedom Indiana group, with the weight — and money — of corporate Indiana behind it, or the supporters, who have decades of lobbying experience among them and deep ties in the Statehouse to trade on.
"We don't have a half-million dollars to pour into this, like the other side does," Clark acknowledged.
The pressure Indiana Republicans feel makes sense, given that they likely face the most peril in how the issue plays out. If the amendment fails in the Legislature, incumbent Republicans could face the wrath of conservatives in the May primaries. And if the issue makes it to the ballot, it has the potential to rev up the Democratic base in November's general election in a way that could ripple up and down the ticket.
In a related story:
Pa. pastor appeals defrocking over gay wedding
KATHY MATHESON, Associated Press
Accompanied by his wife Brigitte, right, the Rev. Frank Schaefer, of Lebanon, Pa., departs after a meeting with officials at the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church, Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013, in Norristown, Pa. Church officials have defrocked Schaefer, who officiated his son's gay wedding in Massachusetts. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A United Methodist pastor defrocked for officiating at his son's same-sex wedding has appealed the decision, a move that offered the latest evidence of a split in the nation's largest mainline Protestant denomination and came as yet another state legalized gay marriage.
Frank Schaefer, who lives in central Pennsylvania, said he was shocked and upset that he could be punished for showing love for his son. He said he believed the penalty was meted out reluctantly by members of the church's regional Board of Ordained Ministry.
"So many of them came to me and they shook my hand and some hugged me, and so many of them had tears in their eyes," Schaefer said. "They said, 'We really don't want to do this, you know that, don't you?'"
Most other Protestant denominations have decided their position on the issue. But the Methodists, with about 7.7 million members in the U.S. and many more overseas, remain divided. At their last national meeting in 2012, delegates reaffirmed the church's 40-year-old policy on gays.
Although the church accepts gay and lesbian members, it rejects homosexual acts as "incompatible with Christian teaching" and bars clergy from performing same-sex unions.
Yet hundreds of Methodist ministers have publicly rejected the doctrine, and some face discipline for presiding over same-sex unions. Last month, in a public challenge to church rules, a retired Methodist bishop officiated at a wedding for two men in Alabama.
Board members of the church's Eastern Pennsylvania Conference declined to comment after meeting privately with Schaefer on Thursday at their offices in Norristown, outside Philadelphia. But spokesman John Coleman said Schaefer left officials no choice after defying the order of a religious jury to resign.
"When asked to surrender his credentials as required by the verdict, he refused to do so," Coleman said. "Therefore, because of his decision, the board was compelled by the jury's decision to deem his credentials surrendered."
Schaefer has led a congregation in the town of Lebanon for more than a decade. Earlier this year, a church member filed a complaint over Schaefer performing the 2007 wedding of his gay son in Massachusetts, where same-sex unions are legal.
Last month, a church jury suspended Schaefer for 30 days and said he should use the time to decide whether he could uphold the church's Book of Discipline. If he decided he could not, he was told to resign from the clergy by Thursday.
Schaefer said he told officials Thursday morning that he could not follow a book that he feels is contradictory and biased against gays. He refused to voluntarily surrender his credentials when asked by the board president.
"To which she said, 'Well, we're taking them.' And that was the end of it," Schaefer said.
Schaefer, making his remarks at a gay-friendly, or "reconciling," Methodist church in Philadelphia, had held out hope as late as Thursday morning that officials would have a change of heart.
"I said to myself, 'You know, I just can't see them taking my credentials.' I mean, what I did was an act of love for my son. And they did anyhow," he said.
The closely watched church decision came down the same day as a flurry of other news demonstrating the societal split on gays and lesbians:
— New Mexico's highest court declared it unconstitutional to deny marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. It joins 16 other states and the District of Columbia in allowing gay marriage either through legislation, court rulings or public votes.
— Olympic figure skating champion Brian Boitano came out as gay two days after he was named to the U.S. delegation for the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, along with openly gay athletes Billie Jean King and Caitlin Cahow. President Barack Obama's decision to include openly gay athletes in the delegation is widely seen as a message to Russia about its treatment of gays and lesbians.
— Key supporters came to the defense of "Duck Dynasty" patriarch Phil Robertson, who was suspended Wednesday from the A&E reality series indefinitely after making disparaging remarks about gays. Sarah Palin posted a picture on Facebook of her with the reality show clan with the message, "Free Speech is an endangered species," and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal also lamented the suspension on free speech terms.
Associated Press writer Michael Rubinkam and AP Religion Writer Rachel Zoll contributed to this report