Traveling at the Speed of Love: Winning the Race for Equality

guyFive years ago last week, on Election Day 2008, California’s electorate passed Prop 8, marking perhaps the most notable low point in the marriage equality movement when a minority was stripped of a previously recognized constitutional right. As of this week five years ago, only two states – Massachusetts and Connecticut – fully recognized the marriages of same-sex couples.

How far we’ve come since then. And how fast.

By Election Day 2009, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Washington, DC had joined the marriage equality club, and by Election Day 2011, New York had, too.

Those were the warm-up laps. The race was finally about to heat up.

On Election Day 2012, three states – Maine, Maryland, and Washington – ratified the freedom to marry at the ballot, while Minnesota beat back a constitutional ban and then went on to pass its own marriage equality legislation a few months later.

This year, marriage equality laws passed in Delaware and Rhode Island in May, while the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously ruled for the freedom to marry in that state just last month.

Of course, marriage equality also returned to California in June – I have the marriage certificate to prove it – when the U.S. Supreme Court let stand on procedural grounds the district court’s ruling striking down Prop 8 as unconstitutional. At the same time, the decision overturning DOMA Section 3 meant that all legal same-sex marriages finally would be recognized by the federal government.

Just one week ago, on Election Day 2013, the Illinois state legislature finally passed its marriage equality bill. Over the course of the same week, the Hawaii House went on to pass an amended version of a marriage equality bill passed by the Senate a week earlier. Illinois and Hawaii are now the 15th and 16th marriage equality states, increasing the percentage of Americans living in marriage equality jurisdictions to 38%.

It took over 225 years from the ratification of the Constitution to achieve our freedom to marry in a single state, and four more years to add a second. Five years later, we’ve vaulted to 16. New Mexico, where some counties already have begun marrying same-sex couples, could easily be number 17. A legal challenge to Nevada’s ban already is being briefed in the Ninth Circuit, and Oregon is well positioned to win at the ballot on Election Day 2014.

Lawsuits challenging marriage bans as unconstitutional have been filed in more than 20 states. Every state that crosses the finish line brings us increasingly closer to Supreme Court recognition of a constitutional right to marry the person you love, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Just as the Court ruled in Loving v. Virginia in 1964 that states could not prohibit marriages between people of differing races, it’s just a matter of time – and not very far off, I’m quite confident – before same-sex couples win our own “loving” decision.

Thom Watson, a leader in the nationwide grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA, lives in Daly City with his newly wed husband, Jeff Tabaco.