Election night four years ago was one bittersweet affair for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans. They swooned over the history-making election of then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) as the nation’s first black president. But they despaired over California’s approval of a constitutional ban of same-sex marriage, coming in a state Obama won handily.
But election night 2012 was different. Last night was a night of firsts.
President Obama was the first sitting president to come out in favor of marriage equality, and it didn’t cost him at the polls. For the first time ever, a ballot measure against same-sex marriage (in Minnesota) was defeated. And for the first time ever, voters said yes to marriage-equality measures in Maine, Maryland and Washington state. The rights of a minority should never be put to a popular vote. Yet when the results favor equality, you can’t help but breathe a sigh of relief.
Since the 1990s, voters in 30 states have denied same-sex couples the right to marry and to enjoy the dignity and security that goes with it. What happened last night ended a shameful streak that condoned discrimination. It also marked what many advocates believe is a tipping point.
“It is clear that marriage-equality opponents are fighting a losing battle and our movement for full equality is at a tipping point,” said Sharon Lettman-Hicks, the executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition. “More and more Americans are realizing that LGBT people deserve the same protections to care for the people they love.”
Brian Ellner, who ran the New York marriage effort and co-founded The Four 2012 , agrees. “[B]y winning for the first time on marriage at the ballot box, we made clear what national polls already show — that Americans support fairness and equality for all families,” he said. “Questions on civil rights should not be up for popular vote, but because they were, we mobilized. Because of it, as the Supreme Court considers marriage equality this term, the Justices now know America is with us. America is ready.”
Later this month, the Supreme Court will decide whether to take up any or all of the marriage-equality cases seeking its review. Some don’t think it is right for the courts to impose its will on the people. When it comes to equal protection under the law and guaranteeing basic civil rights, I’m all for it. That’s why yesterday’s four-state sweep — the culmination of nearly two decades of incremental advancement — is so important as the high court considers a review.
When I asked Freedom to Marry founder Evan Wolfson last night how last night’s results might impact the Supreme Court, he put the drama of this moment into perspective.
Winning the freedom to marry at the ballot takes away the opposition’s last talking point, that the people do not support the freedom to marry, and shows the irrefutable momentum in favor of ending marriage discrimination. We’ve won in courts, in legislatures, in the heartland as well as the coasts, and with Republicans as well as Democrats — and built a nationwide majority for marriage. When the justices consider a marriage case, they can rule in favor of the freedom to marry knowing that they will not only be on the right side of history, but well within the center of gravity of the American people.
The people of Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington state have spoken. I hope the justices are listening.