Following the lead of the District of Colombia this week, lawmakers voted in favor of same-sex marriage in New Hampshire and Maine.
Since Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts already have laws on the books approving gay marriage, tiny Rhode Island stands alone as the New England state without legislation in favor of the issue.
In Maine, Gov. John Baldacci signed his state's same-sex marriage bill less than an hour after the legislature approved it.
"I have come to believe that this is a question of fairness and of equal protection under the law, and that a civil union is not equal to civil marriage," Baldacci, a Democrat, said in a statement released as he signed the bill. He also acknowledged that the citizens of his state might overturn the law. "Just as the Maine Constitution demands that all people are treated equally under the law, it also guarantees that the ultimate political power in the state belongs to the people."
In New Hampshire, it is up to Democratic Gov. John Lynch whether he signs the bill into law. He has said the law is unnecessary because the state already recognizes civil unions.
Same-sex marriage has become one of the most incendiary topics in politics. In fact, President Bush’s re-election can be attributed in large part to his opposition to gay marriage, which helped him draw in enough African-American voters, giving him a narrow win in Ohio, the state that ultimately decided that election. Many Black church leaders have expressed anger over the characterization of gay rights – especially gay marriage – as a civil rights issue. National surveys have shown that African Americans are more likely than Whites to see same-sex marriage as objectionable.
Currently, Iowa and the aforementioned New England states are the only ones where gay marriages are legal.
In early April, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled unanimously that it is illegal to deny gay couples the right to marry. A year earlier, California’s high court handed down a similar ruling – prompting some 18,000 gay couples to officially tie the knot. Seeking to win more acceptance in "Middle America" for gay marriage, voters poured out to the polls in November, overwhelmingly passing Proposition 8, which amended the state constitution and banned gay marriage.
In New York, Gov. David Paterson introduced a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, but it died in the state Senate two years ago.