One year ago, I described the 2012 election as the turning point in the struggle for marriage equality, as three states won or protected the freedom to marry at the ballot box and another fought back a constitutional ban. But, if 2012 marked a watershed, 2013 was the deluge over that divide, with a record number of states recognizing equal marriage, and more than half of those doing so legislatively.
In one year, the number of marriage equality states effectively doubled. Sixteen states, the District of Columbia, and several Native American tribal councils – representing over 38% of the population – now recognize the freedom to marry (with decisions in Utah and Oklahoma, representing an additional 2%, currently stayed pending appeal).
The transition from 2013 to 2014 also marks a decade of equality, as the 2003 Massachusetts Supreme Court equal marriage decision went into effect in May 2004. 2004 also saw the celebration and tragic voiding of four thousand marriages in San Francisco, in some ways teeing off the long, painful fight for marriage equality in California that resulted in In re Marriage Cases, Prop 8, Hollingsworth v. Perry, and, finally, the restoration of the freedom to marry. As critical as 2004 was in the movement, though, it’s important to remember that the struggle for legal recognition of our relationships began more than three decades earlier.
There are potential drawbacks to both the seemingly rapid rate of success we’ve seen recently, and the long hard work needed to make such successes possible. A sense that the tide is unstoppable risks making us complacent, while the long hard work necessary risks burning us out, especially once our own state has won equality.
For many of us, for example, the sense of euphoria we felt in 2013 as marriage equality was restored to California largely erased the pain of the five years while the Prop 8 case made its way through the courts, or at least seemed to offer a chance to try to catch our breath.
Still, over half of us live in states with statutes or constitutional amendments explicitly denying marriage to same-sex couples. And those of us who may legally marry at home shouldn’t have to fear becoming legal strangers to our spouses as we cross state borders. The work goes on, as long as even one of our lesbian and gay sisters and brothers still is denied the freedom to marry the person they love.
Though Marriage Equality USA has its roots and largest membership bases in states where marriage equality is now law, the organization is proud to be a strong and active player in the fight to win the freedom to marry for all Americans. Thanks to our NEAT (National Equality Action Team) coalition, MEUSA has played a key role in winning marriage equality in states like Delaware, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. This year, we’ll be supporting efforts in Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Oregon, among others. Please help us help them win the same freedom and happiness we now have.
Thom Watson, a leader in the nationwide grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA, lives in Daly City with his newly wed husband, Jeff Tabaco.