RAY SUAREZ: When it invalidated 3,000 same sex marriages performed in Multnomah County, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled today that one county can't force a change in state marriage law. It's the latest in a series of judicial, legislative and ballot measures involving same-sex marriage and civil unions across the country.
SPEAKER, the Connecticut House of Representatives: Are there announcements or introductions?
RAY SUAREZ: In Connecticut, it was the legislature that acted. Last night, the Connecticut House of Representatives debated six hours before passing legislation allowing gay couples to form civil unions. Much of the debate centered on an amendment to the civil union law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
STATE REP. ART FELTMAN, D: When it's unnecessary and repetitive to say: "And by the way you don't have marriage," when we already know that and the law of Connecticut, and the citizens of Connecticut already know that and all the officials in charge of enforcing a law already know that; to me, it's the equivalent of putting a "whites only" sign above a water fountain.
STATE REP. ARTHUR O'NEILL, R: This definition cannot really do any harm to the underlying bill or to its effectiveness. The idea that the courts are going to get upset because we say what they have said we have said is the policy of the state of Connecticut one more time, it seems unlikely to me.
We are making, I think, the proponents of the bill, send a major change in our public policy. And since we are disturbing what has been at rest for a long time; we are changing what had been the known and accepted rules as to what these words mean; that we ought to make clear that we are not asking for encouraging or even authorizing or allowing the courts to take everything one step further.
SPEAKER: Will the members please take your seats and the machine will be opened.
RAY SUAREZ: The amendment passed paving the way for the civil unions bill.
SPEAKER: Total number of voting 148 necessary for passage; 75, those voting aye 85; those voting nay 63. Bill passed as amended.
RAY SUAREZ: It gives gay couples all the rights and responsibilities of marriage bestowed by Connecticut, but no additional federal rights. Same sex couples would not be eligible to receive a marriage license. Connecticut's Senate passed a similar bill last week, and is expected to endorse the House version as early as next week. And the Republican governor, Jodi Rell, says she'll sign it. That would make Connecticut the second state after Vermont to allow same-sex civil unions and the first to do so without a court order.
Massachusetts is the only state to allow same-sex marriage. Four states and the District of Columbia have domestic partnership laws providing limited rights to gay couples.
But in Kansas last week, it was voters weighing in and reaching a very different conclusion. They approved a ballot measure banning gay marriage and ordered a change to the state constitution, defining marriage as "one man and one woman only."
The Kansas referendum fits a national pattern. Voters have backed so-called defense of marriage laws in 42 states and rejected civil unions or marriages for homosexual couples in 18 others.
JUDGE: I now pronounce you spouses for life, you may kiss.
RAY SUAREZ: When judges considered the issue as they did in California, New York and Washington state, they overturned bans on gay unions. Today's decision in Oregon runs counter to other judicial rulings. While state-by-state battles continue, Congress is nationalizing the struggle over gay marriage. Yesterday a Senate subcommittee began hearings in a continuing effort to stop gay marriage with a constitutional amendment.
RAY SUAREZ: Joining us to discuss the national landscape of this active debate are Kevin Cathcart, executive director of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund; and Matt Daniels, president of Alliance for Marriage.
Matt Daniels, with these different results coming from different parts of the country, what do you make of what you're seeing?
MATT DANIELS: Well, I think in Connecticut, the democratic process operated as our founders intended. And I think the court in Oregon did the right thing because in Oregon, which is one of the bluest of the blue states, voters overwhelmingly voted to protect marriage as a man and a woman. And I would caution against conflating civil unions with marriage.
The American people are quite clear in the polling data; they believe that it's common sense; that marriage is a man and a woman; they want our laws to send a positive message to kids about that institution. But they are not unified on the subject of benefits, which is why it's proper for the democratic process as has happened in Connecticut to decide those issues.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, it's interesting you mentioned that because in Kansas they not only were very rigorous in their definition of marriage in this recent ballot amendment, but also took another step, it appears to slam the door on the possibility of civil unions. What do you make of that?
MATT DANIELS: Well, you know, yeah, I think that the democratic process, with respect to benefits, will create different results in different states. You know, the irony is that groups on both the right and the left often take issue with democracy at the state level when it produces results that they don't like.
So there are some on the right who will complain about Connecticut, and there are some on the left, including all of the gay activist community who will complain about Kansas. Our position is let the people decide; power to the people when it comes to benefits. But we are going to have a national standard of marriage. It's impossible really as a nation to function without one. And we also want to see that decided democratically rather than through the courts.
RAY SUAREZ: Kevin Cathcart, how do you read these latest legal and ballot box initiatives?
KEVIN CATHCART: Well, the decision in Oregon is very disappointing today. Imagine being a couple in Oregon -- and there were 3,000 couples married there for over a year -- and having your marriage disallowed by the court. I do think however that we are likely to see civil union bills in Oregon like we've seen in Connecticut. We are going to continue to see progress in recognition of same-sex couples.
RAY SUAREZ: And Connecticut's law there was some debate. Even gay activists were not very happy with the results, or many said they weren't today because they felt going that extra mile and amending the bill to include an explicit definition of marriage was not necessary or not welcome.
KEVIN CATHCART: It was not necessary and it was not welcome. The state attorney general had made it very clear that this civil union bill was not going to provide any marriage rights to anyone. But members of the assembly, for whatever reason, felt like they had to go forward with this gratuitous swipe.
Nevertheless, this is a big step forward for the recognition of same-sex couples in Connecticut, and I think it is an important message that will go out around the country that legislatures such as Connecticut's are not afraid to touch the issue.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, you call it a gratuitous swipe, but is it the necessary political price that your organizations have to pay to get something of what they want, but just not all of what they want?
KEVIN CATHCART: Well, there may be places where it's a necessary political compromise. I don't know that that was the case in Connecticut. But it certainly was the compromise that was struck. I think it's important though that we always be focused on the problems with trying to have a separate but equal system where you have one system for one set of people; that is marriage for heterosexual people, and another system for another set of people; that is civil unions or domestic partnerships for lesbians and gay men because separate is inherently unequal and ultimately, we would be better served as a country if we had one standard for all families.
RAY SUAREZ: Now, Matt Daniels, earlier we took a look at the map of the United States and saw different states making different decisions. Let me go back to something you said earlier. That there is going to have to be defining national law in this area. Why is that? Aren't there different state laws in regards to other institutions of daily life?
MATT DANIELS: Yeah. You know, champions of gay and lesbian rights like the Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon, a relevant figure in light of recent developments, reported on in your story, is a supporter of AFM's marriage amendment. And the reason is because he knows that we are ultimately going to see the question of marriage decided at the national level through the federal courts. There has been a decade of lawsuits to achieve that result. There are federal lawsuits right now seeking to take the issue into federal court in Nebraska, in California, in other states.
We simply want to take the issue to the people, consistent with our belief in democracy. We would like to see the American people decide the question of the future of marriage; people want our laws to send a positive message to kids about marriages and family. They've spoken quite clearly at the polls. And ultimately they're going to have to speak at the national level, or the courts will have the final say.
RAY SUAREZ: Kevin Cathcart, do you think that's right, that different laws in different places in the country is just not sustainable over the long run?
KEVIN CATHCART: I think it is something that's sustainable. We have seen it in many other legal arenas. My goal certainly is not to have different standards in different parts of the country. I too think we need to send a strong message to kids about what America stands for, about what real family values are and what equality looks like. And that's why we are pushing for one standard for equal marriage rights and, yes, we are going to fight state by state.
And, you know, it's a challenge right now because there have been constitutional amendments in a number of states. Ultimately, this national conversation about equality is going to have to go forward. And we're going to have to go back to the voters in those states.
RAY SUAREZ: As Matt Daniels points out in places where this has gone to voters your side of the question hasn't done very well. How do you -- if you intend to turn that around with mass support, how do you do that?
KEVIN CATHCART: Well, there's two things I would say to that. One, we are really in the early stages of a national conversation about equality and about families and about gay people. And so in many of these states, I think there has been a push from the right, a kind of rush to try and pass legislation or constitutional amendments before the conversation really has a chance to develop. And I think that's important.
I think the second thing is if you look at the demographic data, there is significant support for equal marriage rights among younger people. And if you look at demographic data, you know, broken out by decades, every decade older currently, there is less support.
But the younger people, who overwhelmingly support equal marriage rights right now are going to continue to work their way through the system. And I can look forward to a day in the not terribly distant future when those numbers are going to be very different.
RAY SUAREZ: Matt Daniels, how do you respond to that idea, that this is a question of patience on the other side of the question because demographic realities are on their side?
MATT DANIELS: First of all, people's opinions change over time, particularly as they age and have children. It gives you a different stake in this debate. Let me just say if that is the case, then stop suing in court to strike down our marriage laws in contravention of the democratic process and in an effort to overturn the will of the people. Simply wait, bide your time and ultimately democracy will operate as it was intended to.
Here's the problem: Americans believe that gays and lesbian have the right to live as they choose, but they don't believe they have a right to redefine marriage for our entire society because they believe that there is something special about the union of a man and a woman, the two halves of the human race. The best way we know to encourage more homes with mothers and fathers for children is through the institution of marriages.
For example, girls need mothers to model for them things that they can only learn from other women. When half the human race is absent, there is something is missing. And Americans understand it is not a statement of hate, it's not a statement of bigotry or animus. It is a statement really of common sense.
RAY SUAREZ: Let me get a quick response from Kevin Cathcart.
KEVIN CATHCART: Well, I think it's ridiculous. Many children grow up in single parent households; many children grow up in two-parent households where two parents are of the same sex. It strengthens those families and it strengthens those children's lives if their families are recognized and have legal protections.
And I think it's also important to remember that the courts are part of our democratic system, and it is ridiculous to think that we shouldn't use the courts and shouldn't ask the courts to do their job under the Constitution, which is to define what the Constitution means, to make sure that the laws that are passed by the legislatures are constitutional, in line with the documents that govern our society.
RAY SUAREZ: Gentlemen, the debate continues. Thanks for being with us tonight.
KEVIN CATHCART: You're welcome.