Lawmakers in at least 23 states this year are expected to address the controversial issue of whether unions between homosexual couples should be legally recognized. The state legislative battles have taken on new importance because of the unfolding legal drama in Hawaii over the issue.

"It looks like now or never," says David Orgon Coolidge, director of the Marriage Law Project at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. "Concerned citizens who want to get involved in the debate about marriage need to contact their state legislators as quickly as possible. Otherwise the marriage issue will be resolved without them, and they'll have to live with the results."

The already-contentious debate drew new fire in December when a Hawaii judge voided a state prohibition on issuance of marriage licenses to homosexual couples.

Hawaii Circuit Court Judge Kevin S. C. Chang ruled that the state had "failed to present sufficient credible evidence … that the public interest in the well-being of children and families or the optimal development of children would be adversely affected by same-sex marriages." Chang's decision became the first judicial ruling in the nation to allow legal homosexual marriage.

APPEAL PENDING: Implementation of Chang's decision has been suspended until the state supreme court considers an appeal, which could happen by the end of the year. Already, though, states are scrambling to deal with the potential implications of the Hawaii case.

According to legal analysts, if Hawaii begins issuing same-sex marriage licenses, then homosexual couples may travel there, marry, and return to their home states demanding recognition of the marriage and spousal benefits.

Just how individual states will handle such ...

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