NEW YORK — Gay-marriage advocates, coming off their first ballot-box victories, are targeting New Jersey and five other states where the road to legalization is simpler because voters can’t overturn laws through referendums.
In Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey and Rhode Island, lawmakers plan to consider or revisit the issue next year, and all except Minnesota already allow civil unions. Even though they prevailed in votes in four states Nov. 6 after a decade of defeats, backers say they prefer to make homosexual weddings legal through legislatures or courts.
“Where we’re going next are states where we can win in the legislature," said Marc Solomon, national campaign director at Freedom to Marry, a New York-based group that helps and funds local gay-rights organizations. “The ballot, without question, is not our preferred route because we fundamentally don’t think it’s appropriate for the public to be voting on the rights of gay people or other minority groups."
The pool of states that have yet to legalize or ban gay vows is shrinking. By Jan. 1, same-sex couples will be able to marry in nine states and the District of Columbia, home to a combined 14 percent of the U.S. population. On the other side of the issue, 30 states have constitutional amendments defining marriage as a pact only between a man and a woman.
The losing streak for same-sex marriage at the polls ended on Election Day, when voters affirmed laws passed by the legislatures of Washington and Maryland, extended the right to gay Mainers and rejected a bid in Minnesota to constitutionally define marriage as heterosexual. Gay-marriage groups spent $35 million, compared with $10 million for opponents, according to both sides.
Before then, legalization had come only through legislative or judicial action as gay marriage was defeated all 32 times it appeared on a ballot.