Freedom to Marry Everywhere
This article written by Evan Wolfson and Mary Bonauto was originally published on November 25, 2013 in USA Today. Read the full article here.
For the two of us, November is a month of milestones in the work to win the freedom to marry for all couples across America. Earlier this month, Hawaii's governor signed into law a freedom to marry bill overwhelmingly approved by the legislature – 20 years after the Hawaii Supreme Court ruling in Baehr v. Lewin declaring the exclusion of gay people from marriage presumptively unconstitutional and sending the case back for a trial. That tectonic decision invigorated the longstanding desire of many same-sex couples for the freedom to marry.
And this month marks 10 years since the historic ruling of the Massachusetts high court in Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health, the case that finally made marriage a reality for same-sex couples in our country and significantly accelerated the progress of the past decade.
Although a decade separated them, the two transformative rulings had much in common. The courts noted the fundamental importance of marriage and the crucial protections that it provides. Both opinions examined whether gay couples' exclusion from marriage violates the constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law. Both cases sought out compelling reasons for government to discriminate against gay people seeking to marry and both exposed that no such reasons existed.
Another decade and much hard work later, we have won the freedom to marry in 16 states and our nation's capital, and more than doubled support among the American people from 27% at the time of the trial in Hawaii to 55% today. In June, the Supreme Court struck down the core of the "Defense of Marriage Act," which was enacted by Congress as the marriage conversation began in Hawaii, and which denied more than 1,000 federal protections to legally married same-sex couples. What was once dismissed as impossible now is extolled as inevitable. But the truth is, it never was either. Just as Hawaii and Massachusetts show that change can come, they also teach us that changes comes only when we do the work. There is no marriage without engagement.
As Congress responded to even the possibility of marriage with DOMA's invitation for states to pass laws banning marriage for same-sex couples, many states piled on after Goodridge with ballot measures constitutionally banning the freedom to marry. But at the same time, couples started marrying in Massachusetts, and the public started to see the very non-threatening and joyous reality of loving, committed couples getting married. Now the work is to remove those discriminatory amendments, which are disrupting the regular political processes of moving freedom to marry bills in state legislatures and challenging the exclusion from marriage in state courts.
The freedom to marry movement has overcome previous barriers and we'll overcome this as well. When our opponents said we could only win on the coasts, we won states in the heartland. When they said we could only win through court decisions, we won in legislatures. When they said we could only win the votes of Democrats, we secured the votes of Republicans. And when they boasted that the small gay minority could never win a majority vote, voters on Election Day 2012 rose to fairness, delivering freedom to marry wins on four out of four ballot measures in four states.
While these anti-marriage constitutional amendments are our final impediment, the work remains the same. Drawing from prior civil rights struggles, we know that victory will come when the Supreme Court brings the country to national resolution. And history teaches us that that will happen when we have won a critical mass of states and public support that shows the justices that America is ready. We continue our work to win more states – focusing on our shared constitutional values of freedom and fairness -- through a mix of litigation, legislation, and a return to the ballot. In states like Oregon, voters in November 2014 will have the chance to right the wrong they were stampeded into a decade earlier. It's a heavy lift, but we've come too far to stop now – especially with the momentum we've earned and the winning strategy before us.
As we celebrate anniversaries and create new milestones, let's be sure not to take our victory lap too soon. The arc of history bends toward justice, but we need to get there, and whether we get there in five years or 15 also makes an enormous difference. Loving and committed couples who do the work of marriage in their everyday lives and who have made a commitment in life deserve that commitment under law as well – and not just in Massachusetts and Hawaii, but throughout our country. It's time to finish the job.