Book charts same-sex marriage skirmish

U. WASHINGTON (US) — Only five U.S. states and the District of Columbia have approved same-sex marriage but more than half of the states have voted on same-sex issues.

A new book literally and figuratively maps the 40-year battle over same-sex marriage in the United States and suggests where the conflict might go next.

The Geography of Love: Same-Sex Marriage & Relationship Recognition in America (The Story in Maps) is a series of maps, elaborated with prose, about what’s become the most prominent gay rights issue in the nation.

“You can read the law, but it’s not the same as seeing patterns around the country,” says Peter Nicolas, professor of law at the University of Washington who with Mike Strong, a cartographer, wrote the book.

The two men are domestic partners who hatched the idea while watching Milk, the movie about openly gay San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk.

In one scene in the movie, characters study a map colored according to votes on an initiative which would have banned gay people from teaching in schools, prompting the researchers to wonder how many other times voters have weighed in on gay rights issues.

The Geography of Love begins with a history of the fight to have gay and lesbian relationships recognized in civil unions, domestic partnerships and marriage that began with a Minnesota lawsuit in 1970 and continues with an Illinois civil union law that goes into effect this June.

Key points of the findings from a search of census records, Secretary of State websites, and maps for information on elections and gay rights include information on:

  • States that permit same-sex couples to marry (five plus the District of Columbia) or enter into legal unions (10).
  • Rules for contracting and ending such relationships.
  • Rights in each state.
  • Reciprocal rights between states.
  • Cities and counties that have domestic partnership registries and equal benefits ordinances.

Efforts to ban same-sex marriage, include selected vote details by state and county, strong versus weak support for same-sex marriage rights, and a comparison of steps for amending state constitutions. For example, changes are harder in West Virginia, for example, than in Minnesota.

Comparing maps proves instructive, the authors say. For example, the first map in the book shows where same-sex couples can get married.

Minnesota is listed as prohibiting such marriages by statute. Several pages later, however, there’s a map of local domestic partnership registries and equal benefits ordinances that shows a cluster of domestic partnership registries established in Minnesota in 2010.

“Local ordinances are predictors of what’s going to happen statewide,” Strong says.

Mapping also revealed some surprises.

More than 60 percent of Texans have voted to ban same-sex marriage, but Travis County, home to the University of Texas at Austin, stands out because less than a majority of residents have voted for such a ban. Similar patterns were found in college towns around the country.

As new legislation is enacted or major cases decided, the book will be updated online.

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