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What’s next for the marriage equality movement?

Marriage equality

By Jacob Combs

Now that we’re two days out from our incredible, historic wins for marriage equality and the LGBT community on Tuesday night, equality activists are already starting to ask what’s next for the movement.  It’s worth taking some time to savor this moment of victory, since it really does mark (as my dad put it aptly in a conversation I had with him last night) a sea change for marriage equality.  But despite our incredible progress, it’s worth remembering that marriage equality is still only a reality in less than 1/5 of American states.  The fight continues, and we should feel energized and excited about looking ahead to our next wins.

Back in June, as part of my multi-post series arguing why the Supreme Court should hear the DOMA cases before the Prop 8 case, I concluded with this look at the future of marriage equality advocacy:

Marriage equality is already the law or on its way in the states which are politically most disposed to equal marriage rights (that is, the bluest states, with the exception being Iowa).  The top tier of blue states that do not currently have marriage equality, in my mind, includes California, Maine, Maryland, Washington, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Hawaii and Oregon.  Of these states, Maine, Maryland and Washington, of course, could have marriage by the end of the year through ballot measures, while California could see marriage return by Supreme Court intervention (or lack thereof) by the end of 2013.

New Jersey’s legislature passed marriage equality earlier this year, and now has until 2014 to overcome Gov. Chris Christie’s veto; a marriage equality case is also working its way through the state’s courts.  Rhode Island is dragging its feet, but this November’s elections could change the makeup of the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature and make marriage equality a real possibility, since public opinion in the state is strongly supportive of equal rights.  Litigation seeking marriage equality has been filed in Hawaii, and advocates in Oregon are considering a ballot initiative in the next few years.  In short, these states are all moving towards marriage equality in one way or another, and within the next 5-10 years, it seems likely they will provide equal marriage rights to all couples.

We can now check Maine, Maryland and, I believe, Washington off that list.  California, of course, is a special situation, and I remain confident that it is unlikely the court will take up the case for review–in fact, I think it’s possibly even less likely it will do so now that three states have affirmed marriage equality at the ballot box. The Court could well see this as a sign that public opinion is shifting and that it does not need to wade into the issue now, although it will almost certainly have to rule on marriage equality sometime in the next few decades to bring equal rights to the reddest states.  I predict that we’ll have marriage equality in California by the end of 2013, either through a remand of the Prop 8 case to the Ninth Circuit in light of a Supreme Court decision on DOMA, or because the Court decided not to hear the Prop 8 case–and we could very well have equality by the end of this year, as well.

That leaves us Rhode Island, New Jersey, Oregon and Hawaii.  In Rhode Island, pro-equality lawmakers picked up seats in both the General Assembly and the state Senate.  Openly gay House Speaker Gordon Fox says he will call a vote on marriage equality when the legislature reconvenes in January, telling the AP, “This election shows there’s been a real change on this issue.  I’m hopeful. There’s definitely a trend here. There’s a wave and we should ride it.”  Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, who opposes equal marriage rights, remains an obstacle, but advocates in the state say they will focus on winning marriage equality legislatively and not through a popular vote.  It will be interesting to see if Gov. Lincoln Chaffee, an independent who supports marriage rights for same-sex couples, takes as proactive and engaged a role in the effort as governors have in other states.

Speaking of governors, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie remains the big obstacle to marriage equality in that state.  Although the state legislature passed a marriage bill earlier this year, Christie vetoed it in February, calling instead for a referendum on the issue.  Lawmakers have until the end of the legislative session in January 2014 to override the veto with a two-thirds margin in each house.  In February, Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat, said in a statement that there was “not a chance in hell” he would bring up a bill to put the law on the ballot.

New Jersey Democrats remain opposed to a referendum on marriage equality, even as many observers believe that such a measure could pass in the Democratic-leaning state.  Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg told the New Jersey Journal, “I still don’t believe we should put civil rights onto a referendum.”  The pursuit of equal marriage rights in the Garden State will continue on two fronts: in the legislature, as Democrats seek a veto override, and in the courts, where a case is currently pending before the state Supreme Court.  Steven Goldstein, chairman of the equality group Garden State Equality, thinks there’s a chance that Christie could be persuaded to change his mind: “The governor, who frankly is the best political strategist I’ve ever met in my life — and I say that with admiration — is a master at straddling the center-right.  I hope the election of 2012 has taught him that his two goals — keeping New Jersey happy and keeping his presidential prospects on fire — are no longer mutually exclusive.”

Marriage equality advocates in Oregon, which has a history of progressive politics, specifically chose not to opt for a ballot initiative on the issue this year.  But Jeana Frazzini, executive director of Basic Rights Oregon, told The Oregonian that this year’s wins in Washington, Maryland and Maine set the stage for a win in Oregon in 2014, saying, “I am more confident than ever that we will be the first state to overturn a constitutional ban on marriage.”  House Democratic Leader Tina Kotek, who will become the House Speaker next session after Democrats regained the Legislature on Tuesday, says that a decision on marriage equality should be made by the people.  “It will not be a legislative referral,” she said. “At the end of the day, this is a community decision.”

In Hawaii, there is currently a marriage equality case making its way through the federal courts.  A judge in Hawaii upheld the state’s marriage laws, which do not allow same-sex couples to marry, earlier this year.  That decision is on appeal with the Ninth Circuit.  A state marriage equality lawsuit is currently underway in Illinois.

Although it’s slightly off topic, I also wanted to point out that this Tuesday included another little piece of history, as New Hampshire elected its first openly transgender lawmaker in the state’s history.  Stacie Laughton, a Democrat, plans to pursue legislation that would benefit New Hampshire’s transgender individuals, facilitating gender changes on state IDs and allowing trans individuals to use the bathrooms of their choice.  Too often, we leave the T out of the discussion of LGBT rights, and I do think that’s a big thing that our community must keep in mind as we move forward and continue to pursue full equality for everyone, not just gays and lesbians.

And, last but not least, I wanted to share this wonderful video from Minnesota of the moment when the campaign to defeat that state’s constitutional ban on marriage equality found out the AP had called the race in their favor.  It’s a moment of sheer joy and passion, and it’s one to relish in.  On to the next victory!

Update: Thanks to jpmassar for pointing out my omission of Delaware, which was completely unintentional.  I wrote about marriage equality progress in Delaware in September, where a bill may be introduced to the legislature in 2013.  Gov. Jack Markell, a Democrat who supports equal marriage rights, easily won reelection on Tuesday.


  • 1. jpmassar  |  November 8, 2012 at 8:19 am

    Zounds. You completely left out Delaware.

  • 2. Jacob Combs  |  November 8, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    My mistake–just included it! Also, great use of a great Shakespearean oath.

  • 3. _BK_  |  November 9, 2012 at 1:01 am

    jpmassar, are you involved at the Daily Kos?

  • 4. jpmassar  |  November 9, 2012 at 6:36 am

    I wrote diaries on Daily Kos, but I have no affiliation per se with Daily Kos.

  • 5. _BK_  |  November 9, 2012 at 6:59 am

    Nice! Just curious; I saw your name pop up there one time and thought it an odd coincidence.

  • 6. Felyx  |  November 8, 2012 at 8:59 am

    I already mentioned this on another post but it is worth repeating. I remember having read studies on how people prefer to say yes rather than no. Asking to ban something is asking for a yes and so is asking to allow something. I would hope to see a wave of ballot measures, particularly during a presidential election cycle, asking to make marriage equality legal.

    Anyway you work it, we are getting there! NOM is clearly demoralized (as evidenced by how half-heartedly they are claiming otherwise) and the tide HAS ALREADY turned. I have lots of confidence in SCOTUS. With a near perfect winning streak, it's unlikely they will overturn these upcoming cases.

    I still say we will see this by 2014! Keep it up!

  • 7. Gregory in SLC  |  November 8, 2012 at 9:16 am

    can so relate to the Minn video! tx for posting : D !

  • 8. Jim  |  November 8, 2012 at 9:24 am

    Does anyone know if the results of elections is New Jersey would help in getting enough votes to override the governor's veto?

  • 9. Robert West  |  November 8, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    New Jersey elects its state legislators in odd-numbered years, so this week's election results are basiscally irrelevant to being able to override Christie's veto.

  • 10. Mike in Baltimore  |  November 8, 2012 at 9:45 pm

    The advantage is that some might be influenced to change their vote to over-ride if the opponent makes a deal of it in a campaign. The constituents also need to apply pressure on their state Senator and two state Assembly persons.

    Remember, the New Jersey legislature has until January 2014 (the beginning of the new legislature) to override the veto.

  • 11. Mark  |  November 8, 2012 at 9:33 am

    What about passing legislatively in Minnesota?

  • 12. Neenerpuss  |  November 8, 2012 at 9:01 pm

    Minnesota handed both houses back to the Democrats after just 2 years of Republican control. In 2010 Republicans captured both houses but Democrats gain the governorship for the first time in almost 2 decades. Gov. Dayton said he will sign a Marriage equality bill if it comes to his desk. After a ban was rejected it is a good sign that Minnesota is ready for Marriage Equality. Dayton has prioritized the budget comes first….But I think they will move on it sooner rather than later to keep distance between it and the 2014 mid-term and any possible backlash. Although Dayton could run on it for re-election on it?

  • 13. Michael Scott  |  November 8, 2012 at 10:14 am

    Count me in for anything we need in Oregon. I am energized and really want to be actively involved, beyond my monthly donation.

  • 14. Carpool Kathleen  |  November 8, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    Great : )

  • 15. Sagesse  |  November 8, 2012 at 10:20 am

    That video is fantastic. So many people put so much into these campaigns.

  • 16. Seth from Maryland  |  November 8, 2012 at 10:31 am

    dont forget in illinois this may come up this year in th elame duck session, with this kind of momentum, we could end having it passed there too before the year is over with

  • 17. Steve  |  November 8, 2012 at 10:41 am

    There is also a lawsuit in Illinois

  • 18. Sagesse  |  November 8, 2012 at 10:46 am

    In general, state legislatures meet during the first half of the year. There will be opportunities (including those already in train, as Jacob mentions, to pass marriage equality

    (a) by upgrading domestic partnerships to full marriage (in states that don't have a constitutional DOMA

    (b) repealing legislative DOMAs, and/or converting them to marriage equality.

    The more states that are in play, the more it drains the NOM resources and refreshes their humiliation.

  • 19. Straight Ally #3008  |  November 8, 2012 at 10:48 am

    Just get the rest of the blue states on board, already! ;-D

  • 20. Bob  |  November 8, 2012 at 11:25 am

    and REFRESH!!!!!! nom's HUMILIATION!!!!!

  • 21. Michael Scott  |  November 8, 2012 at 11:36 am

    I am trying to be civil, but I honestly can't tell y'all how much I wanted to post on NOM's site, "Suck it, NOMbies!"

  • 22. Jamie  |  November 8, 2012 at 2:07 pm

    They wouldn't have approved the comment anyway. They censor everything.

  • 23. Steven  |  November 8, 2012 at 11:47 am

    They still believe that they are winning.. ha ha I think Maggie and Brian are smoking something, ha ha IN Co/ WA

  • 24. Michael Scott  |  November 8, 2012 at 11:54 am

    They're grasping at anything. I find it amusing that their big silver lining was ousting two Republicans in NY who voted for marriage equality, when they're being replaced by two Democrats who are LIKELY for marriage equality. I ALMOST feel sorry for them. Almost.

  • 25. Jamie  |  November 8, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    I wonder how their Republican base is feeling about how NOM flipped the NY Senate to Democratic control? ROFLMAO.

  • 26. Pat  |  November 8, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    Now is a good time to resurrect an old analysis by Nate Silver forecasting the amount of support for ballot initiatives on marriage bans:
    Seems the Minnesota result pretty much follows the 'accelerated model'. Hard to compare the MD, WA and ME laws as they were not actual vote to BAN same-sex marriage.
    What's interesting is that in his article, the next most favorable states for us (beyond those already cited) would be Alaska, Colorado and Nevada. All these states (along with New Jersey, Delaware, Montana and New Mexico) are actually MORE favorable than Maryland according to these calculations!…

  • 27. BradK  |  November 8, 2012 at 3:24 pm

    FWIW, it's now official in WA. Prevent Marriage Washington has conceded. And the PI actually referred to NOM as

    "…The anti-gay rights National Organization for Marriage"

  • 28. Sagesse  |  November 8, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    Does Nate Silver have an algorithm for the rate of spin you need to maintain to keep yourself anchored in an alternate universe?

  • 29. jpmassar  |  November 9, 2012 at 6:38 am

    Yes. Why?

  • 30. Gregory in SLC  |  November 8, 2012 at 4:13 pm

    Thank you for including Stacie Laughton's news! And thank you Stacie's for your efforts in creating more gender neutral restrooms.

    Our family is often "gender non-conformist" in dress and behavior and it can be a challenge. One time we were threatened and almost arrested in an Idaho club for using the "wrong" restroom. The owners didn't have a "problem" with it but stated they almost lost their liquor license for not complying to Idaho laws related to gender specific restrooms by allowing drag queens to use the "women's" restroom.

    A dear old lady friend who transitioned years ago to female, always dresses in a conservative Mormon style, loves the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, feels peace wandering through the world class gardens on Temple Square. She was physically prevented from using a restroom on a temple square in Salt Lake City by several aggressive security personnel. It can be a challenge! Always glad to come across "family style" or gender neutral restrooms. Please always be mindful of our "Q" and "T" family in our quest for equality!

  • 31. Stefan  |  November 8, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    That will likely be coming up in the next legislative session!

  • 32. Carpool Kathleen  |  November 8, 2012 at 7:33 pm

    "What’s next for the marriage equality movement?"

    Well, a spouse would be nice…

  • 33. Gregory in SLC  |  November 8, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    LOL! (p.s. – no more cookie?) ((HUGS)) and good Karma to send a spouse your way!

  • 34. Seth from Maryland  |  November 8, 2012 at 8:04 pm

    This is history , everyone , and i have the perfect title for it ( THE FOUR ), now i will finally get to see my sister (rachel) get marry her partner of 7 years , im so proud of everyone on here who helped made this happen, im proud of my home state Maryland and the three other states, and im proud this entire country, THANK YOU 🙂 ,now with that said lets celebrate for now , but we still got a lot of work to do

  • 35. Dan  |  November 8, 2012 at 11:10 pm

    Congrats on the win Seth. That Baltimore Sun poll gave us all anxiety attacks, but at the end of the day, they were wrong and it was PPP and WaPo that called it exactly right.

  • 36. Dan  |  November 8, 2012 at 11:08 pm

    You left off Delaware, Illinois, and Minnesota. The first 2 are likely to move forward soon. With IL, even though there is a pending suit, a legislative solution is also available, and IL is not a referendum state.

    There is also the defensive side. In Maine and Washington, our opponents could decide to revisit this issue at the ballot. They know that if they wait too long, they won't succeed, so they may well go for a rematch in 2013 or 2014, hoping that lower turnout in either of those years will help them. And it appears that a constitutional amendment fight is inevitable in Indiana, although that would not be until 2014, I believe. Finally, there is a possibility that the losing side in the Prop 8 case seek to trigger another initiative. If we lose, we would be seeking to repeal Prop 8 and if they lose, they would be seeking to enact something like Prop 8 in a way that avoids constitutional infirmities.

  • 37. Stefan  |  November 8, 2012 at 11:52 pm

    They would be fools to try a referendum to repeal the new laws, not to mention it would immediately end up in court.

    Indiana very well will be their final victory IMO.

    When Prop 8 is gone for good, the other side won't be able to pass another amendment. It will be unconstitutional.

  • 38. _BK_  |  November 9, 2012 at 1:04 am

    Have to say, I'd love to see them try. And then miserably fail once more. 😉

  • 39. txequality  |  November 9, 2012 at 4:54 am

    I've heard rumblings of activists in Michigan wanting to go back to the ballot and know that Ohio activists are currently collecting signatures to aim for the 2013 ballot.

    Also we will likely be playing defense in Indiana where a constitutional amendment banning marriage and civil unions will likely be on the ballot in 2014.

  • 40. Seth from Maryland  |  November 9, 2012 at 7:01 am

    in 2014 , the next state i look to to go forward is oregon

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