Big Wins for the Freedom to Marry, Now Let’s Finish the Job

This article by Evan Wolfson was originally published on June 26, 2013 in Reuters. Read the full article here.

Nearly two years after we were pronounced married by New York state in front of our family and friends, my husband and I are finally married in the eyes of the federal government.

Okay, it took an order from the Supreme Court. But Cheng and I are celebrating anyway.

Like so many other same-sex couples wed under the shadow of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, we had been treated as second-class citizens — forced to pay extra to file our taxes and get spousal health coverage. We were denied access to federal programs such as Social Security or immigration green cards — among the many federal protections automatically afforded other married couples who are not gay.

But though my husband and I, here in New York, can look forward to the federal government finally treating us as what we are — married — that simple respect is still denied couples just like us in, say, North Carolina.

Cheng and I can now take family leave to care for each other without fear of losing our jobs. But Mark Maxwell and Timothy Young of Winston-Salem, who can’t even both be legal parents to their four sons because of state discrimination, are denied that — even though they were legally married in Washington earlier this year.

For despite the Supreme Court ruling Wednesday that strikes down a central part of the Defense of Marriage Act, some federal programs are now based on where couples live — not where they were married. Until the Obama administration and Congress do their parts to implement the court’s ruling, applying the time-honored “place of celebration” standard that respects lawful marriages by states like New York, the United States will remain a patchwork — and marriages will sputter in and out like cellphone service.

And, of course, though the Supreme Court’s other marriage decision on Wednesday restored the freedom to marry to couples in California — along with the 12 other states that we’ve won — 37 states still refuse to issue marriage licenses to loving and committed same-sex couples.

The Supreme Court failed to end marriage discrimination nationwide, as it finally had to do in ending bans on interracial marriage in 1967’s Loving v. Virginia. Even after our string of freedom-to-marry victories in Delaware, Minnesota and Rhode Island this year, the Illinois House of Representative’s failure to take up marriage legislation last month demonstrated that the freedom to marry won’t just win itself.

Fortunately, though, the path to victory is clear. And our nation is already on it. The same winning strategy that has brought such transformation and triumph — nearly a third of Americans now live in freedom-to-marry states, up from zero a decade ago — can now spread that freedom nationwide.

At the federal level, we’ll keep building support in Congress to pass the Respect for Marriage Act — getting DOMA off the books entirely and ending the piecemeal approach to respecting marriages.

With California back, we’ll channel the momentum for marriage into winning the next round of states — from New Jersey to New Mexico, from Oregon to Ohio. We’ll finish the job in states like Hawaii and Illinois, even as we push to grow support in all 50 states.

Freedom to Marry’s aim is to see a majority of Americans in marriage states by 2016 — working in state legislatures, in the courts and at the ballot — with our eyes set on a return to the Supreme Court with more states, more support and more receptive justices.

Through it all, we will continue to create the climate that empowers decision-makers to do the right thing, making the case by sharing our experiences — which will continue to change hearts and minds.

We have built a nationwide majority for marriage — 58 percent of Americans, according to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, and 81 percent of younger voters, including Republicans and evangelicals — support our view. Freedom to Marry now aims to get that support to 60 percent within three years, promoting conversations about why marriage matters with Americans of all races, religious beliefs and political persuasions.

The Supreme Court first punted on interracial marriage before it finally did the right thing in Loving v. Virginia in 1967 — and brought the country to national resolution.

We have the momentum, we have the truth, we have the support of the American people, and we have the winning strategy. We just need to keep at it.

Our work in this next and final chapter will decide whether it’s a question of years or decades. I know which timeline Freedom to Marry’s on.