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Mapping the Legal Status of Same Sex Unions

Book Cover Courtesy Peter Nicolas & Mike Strong
The Geography of Love Same-Sex Marriage & Relationship Recognition in America

With the constant legal and legislative changes affecting same-sex couples across the country, it might seem an impossible feat to keep track.

In The Geography of Love: Same-Sex Marriage & Relationship Recognition in America (The Story in Maps), authors Mike Strong and Peter Nicolas do just that. They offer a concise view of the political landscape regarding gay marriage.  And they do so in a unique way: offering visual representations of votes and legal rights.

 The 42-page book outlines the struggle surrounding civil unions, domestic partnerships and same-sex marriage since the 1970’s.Without the spin of most controversial issues, the authors lay out the facts, the challenges to the law, and the history of those challenges from both sides. 

“Although the book is useful to law students, law professors, and practicing lawyers,” Peter Nicolas said, “it is written primarily for non-lawyers who are interested in learning about the rights of same-sex couples.”

 “I think people who are generally interested in elections will enjoy this book as well,” Mike Strong added.

Mike Strong specializes in Geographic Information Systems, and Peter Nicolas is a Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of Law.  Working over the past two years, they compiled data from state election websites, the U.S. Census and legal texts.  Using mapping software, Strong translated the data into maps. Nicolas wrote the text explaining the history of this issue and both compiled the tables.

One can write volumes on this issue, but the first map in the book speaks loudly enough on its own.  It details the states in our country that allow same-sex marriage (very few) versus those that do not (the large majority).  As each successive map becomes more detailed--votes visually represented--one is better able to grasp where our society stands today.

For example, in one table entitled “Formation and termination of non-marital relationship recognition programs”, Delaware—which doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage--requires divorce or annulment in order to terminate civil unions.  Looking further down that table, one can see that other states with the same legal prohibition on marriage require a “dissolution” to bring the same end to that relationship.  If nothing else, the very fact that the terms “divorce” and “annulment” are maintained where the term “marriage” is not might prompt further consideration.

When asked whether writing this book made them more encouraged or more disappointed, Nicolas responded, “…when I first started teaching the course (on gay rights and the constitution), not only were there zero states that permitted same-sex couples to marry (and only one with civil unions), but it was still constitutional for a state to criminalize sexual relations between two people of the same sex.”

Strong is both encouraged and disappointed. “Twelve years ago, the biggest issue seemed to be protection against employment discrimination. I never would have guessed where the county would be today,” said Strong.

This is currently the 2ndedition of the book. The authors intend to keep legislative updates on their website, www.gayrightsmap.com, and to release another edition of the book later this year.

 “One of the most challenging—but exciting—aspects of keeping this book up-to-date is that there is so much activity occurring in both the legislative and judicial arenas,” said Nicolas.

The recent changes regarding gay-marriage in both Washington, New Jersey and California only reinforce that statement.

“What a strange country we live in,” Strong mused.  “In some states like (NH), same-sex couples can legally marry, while in others, it’s legal to fire someone because they are gay.”

For more information and updates: www.gayrightsmap.com

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