Press

Legislative Update: March 11

Date: 
March 11, 1998

As of March 11, 1998, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force tracked 146 gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender (GLBT) or HIV/AIDS- related state legislative measures. They have been introduced in 33 states and Puerto Rico. The Task Force has classified 67 of these bills as unfavorable and 79 as favorable to the GLBT community. HIV/AIDS related bills account for approximately a third (49) of all measures tracked. When these HIV-related measures are taken out of the equation, 56 bills are considered favorable while 41 are unfavorable. Of these 97 measures, 17 relate to the issue of civil rights; 15 to domestic partnership; 17 to marriage;11 to hate crimes; 13 to schools and campus; seven to sodomy; six to families; one to health, and one specifically to the transgendered community. Attacks appear to be most pronounced against gay and lesbian families. Combining the areas of marriage, domestic partnership, and families, there are 27 measures that are hostile to GLBT families.

In the arena of civil rights, 14 favorable measures were introduced, though passage for most of them seems unlikely. In addition, while 4 states in 1997 passed hate crimes laws that included sexual orientation (see NGLTF's Capital Gains and Losses 1997), it's unlikely that 1998 will come close to a repeat of such a major legislative success.

To view our summary chart of 1998 Legislation, click here to view a GIF or Adobe Acrobat PDF file.

MARRIAGE:

On February 27, a Superior Court in Alaska rejected the state's request to dismiss a lawsuit filed by two men for the right to marry. Similar to the way the Hawaii court case progressed, the judge ruled the State of Alaska must show a compelling reason to prohibit same gender couples from marrying. In his ruling, Superior Court Judge Peter Michalski stated, "The Court finds that marriage, that is the recognition of one's choice of a life-partner, is a fundamental right." The state will likely appeal the ruling to the State Supreme Court. If the lower court ruling is upheld, then a trial would be held where the state would be made to demonstrate a "compelling reason" to discriminate against same-sex couples. An anti-gay lawmaker has since introduced a state constitutional amendment that would restrict marriage to a man and woman. It must pass the state legislature by a two-thirds vote. It has already passed out of one committee and now moves on to another. If the amendment does pass the legislature, it would then go before voters in November. For more information, contact Dan Carter at EQUAL, Inc., 907/274-9226, equal907@aol.com or Sara Boesser at the Committee for Equality, 907/789-9604.

In other marriage news, Washington became the 26th state to adopt an anti-same-sex marriage ban (see attached NGLTF Marriage Map), while New Mexico activists were successful in killing an anti-marriage bill in their state. Measures to ban marriage remain alive in eleven states (AL, AK, CO, IA, KY, MD, NE, NJ, VT, WV, WI). The Nebraska bill is a holdover from last year and very unlikely to get far. In Maryland, in addition to the anti-marriage bill, the "Protection of Marriages" measure, a pro same-sex marriage bill, has been introduced.

To view our most current marriage map click here for a GIF or Adobe Acrobat version.

CIVIL RIGHTS:

On February 10th, Maine's civil rights law was repealed through a voter referendum. The law was passed last spring. Opponents put it up for a vote in a process known as the "people's veto." Only 30 percent of the electorate voted, and it was repealed by less than two percentage points. Had the vote occurred during a regular election when a majority of the electorate was participating, it is likely the law would have been preserved. Maine is now the only state in New England without a civil rights statute that bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

At least nine states (AZ, CO, DE, IL, IA, MD, MO, NE, NY) and Puerto Rico had broad-based civil rights measures introduced. The Arizona, Nebraska and Delaware bills are limited to employment, while the rest would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment, housing, credit, and public accommodation. The Colorado bill is officially dead, and the Iowa measure is effectively killed. The others remain pending. In California, there is a bill that would extend the time allowed to file an employment discrimination complaint, while in Kentucky there is a bill prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination in the provision of health insurance and health care.

Three states (CA, HI, WA) have anti-civil rights measures pending. The Washington bill would prevent cities and counties from amending their landlord-tenant laws to include, among other things, non-discrimination ordinances (such as sexual orientation) that are not included in state law. The California measure would exempt all non-profits from a law banning employment discrimination, and the Hawaii measure would allow legislators to overrule state court decisions by a simple majority. This bill is motivated by court rulings in the state favorable to same-sex marriage.

DOMESTIC PARTNERSHIP:

Five states (CA, GA, MI, WA, WI) face unfavorable measures that would limit the provision of domestic partner benefits. The Wisconsin bill would forbid any entity in Wisconsin from receiving state dollars to offer domestic partner health insurance coverage. A similar measure in Michigan passed the Senate and now awaits action in the House. The California bill would prevent the University of California from providing domestic partner benefits to faculty and staff. This bill is now in committee.

On the positive side, California has a number of favorable domestic partner bills, as does Massachusetts. Also, in Illinois there is a measure to extend health and insurance benefits to the same-sex domestic partners of state employees. Republican governor Jim Edgar is on record as supporting these benefits.

HATE CRIMES:

At least seven states (CA, CO, IN, MI, SC, VA, WY) had hate crime bills introduced that are inclusive of sexual orientation. While Virginia and Wyoming's hate crimes bills are dead, favorable measures in Colorado, California, Indiana, and South Carolina are still alive. The California bill would include gender identity in the state's hate crimes law. The law already includes sexual orientation. Meanwhile Kentucky has a bill to establish a hate crimes law; however, the measure does not include crimes based on sexual orientation. In Pennsylvania, there is a measure that would establish a hate crimes law inclusive of sexual orientation. However, it is attached as an amendment to a bill that is considered by many to be an infringement on first amendment rights. The bill would make it illegal to wear a mask on public or private property except under specific circumstances. The entire bill, along with its hate crimes amendment, is therefore being opposed by most GLBT groups.

FAMILIES:

A bill was introduced in Rhode Island that would allow individuals to designate the person they want to be considered immediate family for the purpose of hospital visitation. Along with Rhode Island, at least one other state, Arizona, has a pro-families measure. Meanwhile attacks on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender families continue in at least four states (AZ, GA, OK, TN). The Tennessee measure is not likely to go anywhere. In Oregon there is a broad sweeping anti-gay initiative that is likely to appear on the November ballot (see NGLTF Legislative Update 1/31/98).

SODOMY:

Sodomy repeal measures have been introduced in at least six states (AZ, GA, MA, MO, RI, VA).

HIV/AIDS & HEALTH:

A slew of HIV/AIDS-related measures have been introduced in at least 16 states. Ten states (CA, CO, GA, IL, IN, MN, MS, MO, RI, VA) have measures that the considered favorable. These measures range from needle exchange programs to increased funding for education and prevention programs. In at least thirteen states (AK, AZ, CA, CO, HI, IN, IA, MN, MS, MO, NY, WA, WV) there are unfavorable measures ranging from the criminalization of HIV transmission to a bill in West Virginia that would allow HIV testing without consent. It would apply to a broad and nebulous array of situations involving people who are exposed to blood, such as funeral home directors, health care workers, and those persons helping at accident scenes. The West Virginia measure has already passed out of one house.

On the non-legislative front, the California Supreme court let stand a lower court ruling prohibiting commercial enterprises from furnishing marijuana for medicinal purposes (marijuana is used by many people with AIDS to alleviate pain). Also, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health announced mandatory reporting by health-care providers of HIV using a number identifier rather than a patient's name.

In the area of health, there is a bill in Kentucky that would exclude same-sex couples from domestic violence protections.

TRANSGENDER:

In Maryland, there is a bill allowing the reissue of birth certificates for persons who have a sex change operation.

CAMPUS:

In Kansas, the legislature requested that the Board of Regents submit a list of all academic courses with subject matter directly related to homosexuality or bisexuality. The request has since made it through the chain of command to department heads at some schools. It is not known which legislator(s) made the request, only that it was made through Legislative Research Services, which ensures the source of the request remains anonymous. The request and the fact that is being carried out by school officials have chilled many in the academic community who see it as an aggressive attack on academic freedom and the gay lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. For more information, contact Christine Robinson at the Freedom Coalition, 785/841-0992.

A measure in California would prohibit state schools from removing armed forces recruiters from campus. Some schools across the country have banned ROTC units because the military's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy conflicts with their state or campus non-discrimination policy. In Illinois there is a bill to add sexual orientation to the non-discrimination policy for the state's community colleges and universities.

SCHOOLS:

Measures pertaining to schools have been introduced in at least six states (CA, CO, GA, IN, RI, WA). Two unfavorable bills in Indiana would create an abstinence education study committee and mandate teaching abstinence in sex education classes. The Georgia bill would restrict information about homosexuality. There are two favorable bills. They are a safe schools measure in Washington and a resolution in Rhode Island requesting the Department of Education to make available sensitivity training about homosexuality.

Media Note: Contact information for state activists and organizations working on legislative issues is available from NGLTF Field Organizer Tracey Conaty at 202/332-6483 ext. 3303, tconaty@ngltf.org.

This information was gathered by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force from a variety of sources, including news reports, activists, various organizations, and state legislative libraries. Due to the often fast pace of the legislative process, some of this data may be incomplete or quickly out of date. This legislative update is intended to provide an overview of the type of favorable and unfavorable activity happening in state capitals. NGLTF will release a final accounting of favorable and unfavorable bills later in the year in our 1998 edition of Capital Gains and Losses. Individuals with information on legislative activity not in this report should contact the NGLTF Field Department at 202/332-6483, extension 3303, tconaty@ngltf.org.

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The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.