UPDATE: Today, a federal district judge struck down as unconstitutional Utah’s 2004 ban on same-sex marriage, and the Salt Lake County clerk’s office has started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples!
This year will long be remembered as a watershed for marriage equality in the United States. With big wins at the Supreme Court, and the number of states approving marriage rights for same-sex couples rising to 17, this major civil rights struggle is on the path to its logical and democratic conclusion.
If you’re having trouble keeping track of all the good news, here’s our year-end wrap-up to help make your holiday season merry and bright.
June 26: The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Thanks to the courage of Edith Windsor and the persistence of her legal team, the federal ban on marriage for same-sex couples—on the books since 1996—is now a thing of the past. Although the 5-4 decision that downed DOMA did not automatically grant marriage equality nationwide, it ended the federal government’s discrimination against legally married lesbian and gay couples. The decision might have made Justices Alito and Scalia angry, but we have every reason to believe that it’s only a matter of time before full equality will prevail despite them.
June 26: Proposition 8 was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. California’s ban on marriage rights for same-sex couples, passed by voter referendum in 2008, put an end to a brief window of marriage equality in the state with the largest population in the country. Two couples—Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo—sued for the right to marry, and after a landmark trial and an appeals court victory, the case landed at the highest court in the land. In another 5-4 ruling. the court eliminated Prop 8 without weighing in on its constitutionality. Marriage equality resumed in California on June 28 and the Prop 8 plaintiffs were among the first to marry!
October 21: New Jersey begins marrying same-sex couples. This, in spite of threats from Governor Chris Christie, who wanted to deny marriage rights to lesbian and gay citizens in his state. Christie threw in the towel once marriages got underway, but continues to oppose marriage equality for all.
November/December: Hawaii and Illinois grant marriage rights to same-sex couples. Weddings for lesbians and gay men began in Hawaii on December 2 and will start on June 1 in Illinois. In New Mexico, where the definition of marriage does not mention gender, county clerks in eight counties began issuing marriage licenses to lesbian and gay couples over the summer, and the state Supreme Court just ruled in favor of marriage equality.
Other states are making progress and fighting for this right. According to the most recent Gallup poll, 54 percent of Americans believe that marriages between same-sex couples should be legal and valid.
As the year comes to an end, check these stats:
- More than 38 percent of the U.S. population lives in a state that either has the freedom to marry or honors out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples.
- More than 41 percent of the U.S. population lives in a state with either marriage or a broad legal status such as civil union or domestic partnership.
- More than 43 percent of the U.S. population lives in a state that provides some form of protections for gay couples.
Granted, full marriage equality may still take years, and marriage rights do not guarantee equal rights for all LGBT citizens—who still face legal discrimination in many states. Nonetheless, when we look back over the past 12 months, we are amazed by how much has changed since 2013 got underway. Can’t wait to see what 2014 will bring!
Image from Wikimedia Commons
Audrey Bilger (@AudreyBilger) is a professor of literature and faculty director of the Center for Writing and Public Discourse at Claremont McKenna College. She is co-editor, with Ms. magazine senior editor, Michele Kort, of Here Come the Brides! Reflections on Lesbian Love and Marriage, a 2013 Lambda Literary Awards finalist.