When we see a shift in public opinion about something we sometimes talk about a “tipping point,” that is, a time where it appears that the momentum has shifted and what was once a minority opinion has now become the majority.
It’s hard to remember this, but just a few years ago this was thought impossible. In 1996, 18 years ago, President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA. It mandated that the federal government not recognize any marriage except between one man and one woman.
Fifteen years ago, in 1999, California led the country in issuing domestic partner licenses; it provided some of the benefits of marriage. Other states followed.
Massachusetts, in 2004, became the first state to allow gay couples to marry. But because of DOMA these married couples could not file joint income tax returns, or benefit from each others’ social security or other benefits. There had been a residency requirement (that you had to live in Massachusetts or plan to live there). This was a 1913 law and was intended to prevent Southern interracial couples from coming to Massachusetts to get married. It was repealed in 2008.
Also in 2008 the California Supreme Court ruled that the state could not ban gay marriage under the rules of the state constitution. Almost immediately there were calls to amend the California constitution to prevent marriage equality. Later that year Proposition 8 amended the constitution, though the state upheld the marriages that were performed between June 16th and November 4th.
In 2010 the District Court of Northern California ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional (even though it was an amendment to the constitution). In 2012 the U.S. Ninth Circuit upheld the ruling; it was appealed to the Supreme Court but the Supreme Court ruled against them in 2013. Ever since then marriage equality has been legal in California.
There is much more to this and I encourage everyone to read the entire timeline at here.
The 50 states are divided into 11 circuits: you can view the map at here.
The 4th, 7th, 9th, and 10th circuits have all ruled in favor of marriage equality. In a surprise to many, the Supreme Court refused to hear any these appeals.
It’s a bit of a disappointment to those of us who favor marriage equality; we were hoping for the equivalent of Loving v. Virginia when the Court ruled that bans on interracial marriages were unconstitutional.
That said, it’s a devastating blow to those who oppose marriage equality. It appears that as of today Virginia, Indiana, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Utah will start issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. Because they belong to the 4th, 7th, 9th, and 10th circuits Wyoming, Kansas, West Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina will soon follow.
The Supreme Court could still take cases from the other circuits (the 5th circuit is looking at this) but I think this sends a clear message to the other circuits that the Supreme Court will rule in favor of marriage equality.
It appears that homophobia is the latest casualty in the march for justice.