Zero to 32: Court rulings drive marriage equality

Lisa Neff, Staff writer

Zero to 32 states in 10 years. That’s a rapid acceleration of marriage equality in just a decade. And the number could approach 50 before the new year arrives.

Massachusetts, in 2004, became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. The number of equality states grew slowly at first, as polls continued to show only minority support among voters to legalize marriage for gays and ballot amendments to ban same-sex marriage continued to pass.

But the momentum shifted in 2012, when Minnesota voters rejected such a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and Maine voters cast ballots for equality. Also that year, President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to announce support for marriage rights for same-sex couples.

In 2013, Democratic lawmakers pressed forward with equality bills in several states, but the U.S. Supreme Court decisions in June 2013 and October 2014 really paved the way for the rapid expansion in the number of equality states. Last summer, the high court overturned the portion of the Defense of Marriage Act that barred federal recognition of legal same-sex marriages. This fall, the high court denied cert to appeals in equality cases from Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Utah, Indiana and Virginia, immediately extending equality to those states and paving the way for same-sex couples to marry in the other states in the Fourth and 10th circuits.

Obama, in a recent interview with The New Yorker, said the high court’s Oct. 6 recent orders on marriage equality may have the biggest impact of any ruling of his presidency: “It was a consequential and powerful signal of the changes that have taken place in society and that the law is having to catch up.”

As WiG went to press, same-sex couples could legally marry in 32 states. The most recent additions on the equality map were Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Nevada and Wyoming, where civil rights advocates were reminded of the legal advances and cultural transformations since the beating death of gay college student Matthew Shepard in Laramie in October 1998.

Mother and activist Judy Shepard wrote on her Facebook page about progress and change — from the Oct. 16, 1998, memorial service for her son to the trial of her son’s killers in 1999 and then marriage equality advances this October. “Such a sense of history — a realization that maybe Wyoming will finally live up to its moniker, the Equality State,” she said.

Still pending, as of Oct. 29, are resolutions of appeals in equality cases from Texas and Louisiana in the Fifth Circuit; appeals from Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan in the Sixth Circuit and an appeal from Florida in the 11th Circuit.

And though Kansas, Montana and South Carolina are in circuits where appeals courts have made clear that banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, Republican leaders in the states continue to deny marriage licenses to gay couples.

James Esseks of the American Civil Liberties Union said the states have no excuse to keep up their fight: “The circuit law is what it is. They need a little push and we’ll give it to them.”

When in Rome…

Ignazio Marina, the mayor of Rome, defied Italy’s government and registered 16 same-sex marriages on Oct. 18. The mayor said that “the most important right is to say to your companion ‘I love you’ and to have that be recognized.”

The celebration took place within walking distance of the Vatican, where, that same day, Catholic bishops scrapped a proposed landmark welcome to gays and adopted a watered-down statement on ministering to homosexuals. The bishops could have approved a statement considering gays as individuals with gifts to offer the church. Instead they adopted a paragraph that said “people with homosexual tendencies must be welcomed with respect and sensitivity” and repeated church teaching that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.

— from AP and WiG reports

Legal in 32

Same-sex couples can legally marry in the District of Columbia and 32 states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.