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Gay marriage: Prop. 8 ruling cheered, but U.S. impact not clear

February 8, 2012 |  3:57 pm

Ellen Pontac, of Davis, Calif., celebrates in Sacramento with her partner, Shelly Bailes.
The appeals court ruling that struck down California's Proposition 8 was being hailed Wednesday as a victory not only for gays and lesbians in this state, but for those in other states as well, with some activists saying it could fuel the fight for same-sex marriages.

"The outcome certainly helps buoy efforts all over the country," said Brian Moulton, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. 

The voter-approved Proposition 8 limited marriage to the union of one man and one woman, and Moulton said that the decision by a panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to strike it down was a "big victor, but one that’s part of a larger set of big steps" to come.  

Other gay and lesbian activists, however, said the decision was so narrowly worded that any momentum would be largely symbolic.

Statehouses in New Jersey, Maryland and Washington are working on legislation that would allow same-sex couples to marry. Meanwhile, both supporters and opponents of same-sex unions are appealing directly to voters. Referendums in Minnesota and North Carolina would limit the definition of marriage to the union of one man and one woman, and a measure being considered for the Maine ballot would broaden the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples.

Washington is the closest to approving gay marriage -- both houses of the Legislature have passed such a measure -- and the governor has indicated that she will sign the bill when it lands on her desk. In New Jersey, Republican Gov. Chris Christie has vowed to veto any legislation should it reach his office. And in Maryland, the issue is being debated in committees. 

In Minnesota, where the issue of gay marriage is set to come before voters in November, gay and lesbian activists heralded the Proposition 8 news as a positive development, even though the ruling only affects California. 

"It affirms what Minnesotans already know," said Gia Vitali, a spokeswoman for Minnesotans United for All Families. "There’s no reason for government to restrict the freedom to marry."

The Minnesota group is made up of several gay rights groups hoping to defeat the referendum passed last year by the state Legislature. Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, issued a symbolic veto of the referendum last summer and said he believed the referendum defining marriage as between a man and woman would be defeated.

The ruling, while welcomed, will have little effect in North Carolina, gay rights groups there said.

In May, North Carolina voters will decide whether to amend their constitution to outlaw civil unions and domestic partnerships, said Stuart Campbell, executive director of Equality North Carolina. His group cheered the news out of California, but didn't expect much of a ripple effect.

"It doesn’t have any impact on us," Campbell said. "It’s encouraging… but it has no practical effect on our state."

In Maine, gay marriage groups are hoping to legalize same-sex marriage through an upcoming fall ballot. Three years ago, legislators there passed a bill to legalize gay marriage , which the governor signed, but in November 2009 voters reversed that effort via referendum, 53% to 47%.

Equality Maine has submitted signatures to place the matter on the ballot. They believe that based on evolving public opinion, the strategy may pay off. 

Same-sex marriage is legal in six states -- New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont -- and the District of Columbia.

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-- Ricardo Lopez

Photo: Ellen Pontac, of Davis, Calif., celebrates in Sacramento with her partner, Shelly Bailes, after a federal appeals court struck down California's Proposition 8 on Tuesday. Credit: Renee C. Byer/The Sacramento Bee

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