Becky Garrison:  In the battle for marriage equality, a federal appeals court and the Washington State legislature delivered both a love letter for same-sex couples and a Valentine’s Day massacre on society, depending on one’s interpretation of civil liberties and the institution of marriage.

On February 7, 2012, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared California’s Proposition 8, a ban on same-sex marriage, to be unconstitutional. By a 2-1 decision, the three-judge panel affirmed the lower court judge’s 2010 ruling that Prop. 8 was indeed a violation of the civil rights of gays and lesbians. (This timeline charts the legal briefs and hearings that transpired since 2008 when Prop 8 went into effect.)

However, the same-sex ban on marriage in California will remain in effect while ProtectMarriage, the group that sponsored Proposition 8, appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court.The day after the California ruling, the Washington State House followed the bipartisan lead of their counterparts by passing Senate Bill 6239, which legalized same-sex marriage.”With today’s vote, we tell the nation that Washington State will no longer deny our citizens the opportunity to marry the person they love,” said Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat who signed the bill.Same-sex couples can be legally wed in June when the current legislative session ends unless their opponents, such as the National Organization for Marriage, can gather the 120,577 signatures needed by June 6 to put a referendum on the November 2012 ballot.

A Senate hearing over the Washington bill displayed divisions and passions: A Catholic archbishop testified against same-sex marriage. An Evangelican Lutheran Church bishop said congregations that want to marry same-sex couples should be permitted to do so. An Assembly of God pastor argued against the legislation; he was followed by a Reform rabbi claiming that religious freedom means allowing gays and lesbians to wed.
On his blog, the Rt. Rev. Gregory Rickel, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia, frames this debate as a conservative proposal noting, “They are asking for equal treatment. They are asking to be accountable, as a couple, in community.”Over on their blog, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) chronicled a range of support for same sex marriage in Washington State, as well as Maryland and New Jersey, two other states moving toward marital equality legislation. Currently, same-sex marriage is legal in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Washington, DC. This map, posted at Talking Points Memo, illuminates the status of same sex marriage across the United States.
In parsing the data in a recent New York Times poll, one finds that while the majority of voters (including Catholics) support marriage equality, most evangelicals do not favor same-sex marriage or even civil unions. So what does this mean for the current state of Catholic teaching on “traditional marriage” when Catholics rebel against papal authority while evangelicals side with the U.S. Conference of Bishops? Furthermore, could these statistics shed any light that could help to explain the rise of Presidential candidate and conservative Catholic Rick Santorum as the current Republican frontrunner?