The first step in cobbling together the Democratic Party platform begins this weekend when the 15-member drafting committee meets this weekend. Plenty of issues will be discussed, but none promises to be more controversial than whether to make support for marriage equality an official Democratic Party policy position. What is noteworthy about the Minneapolis meeting is that it will mark the beginning of a series of events that could lead to the end of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
According to a report by Third Way, the centrist think tank, there are “six imminent marriage moments” between now and June 2013. And each moment would give wavering politicians another opportunity to evolve on an issue President Obama completed in May.
If the full Democratic platform committee adds a pro-marriage-equality plank next month, the next marriage moment will occur in October. That’s when the Supreme Court will announce if it will hear a equal-protection challenge to DOMA brought by couples legally married in Massachusetts. “[L]egal observers agree that the Court will almost certainly take the case,” the Third Way report notes.
A more definitive moment will come in November when voters in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington state go to the polls to cast a ballot for or against same-sex marriage. Marriage-equality advocates have never won at the ballot box. But folks are cautiously optimistic that Maryland could hold the first victory.
Attention will turn back to the Supreme Court in February 2013 when it is expected to hear oral arguments in the DOMA challenge. As we saw during the health care oral arguments, we can learn a lot about the mood of the court during such a session. But as we also learned that you can’t really predict how the justices will rule after watching said session.
Third Way points out that legislators in Rhode Island, New Jersey and Illinois have said they champion bills to legalize same-sex marriage. This could happen in April 2013. And momentum behind their efforts will build if even one of those four states legalized marriage equality at the ballot box in November.
The final moment comes in June 2013. That’s when the Supreme Court is expected to hand down its ruling. The hope is that a majority of the nine Justices will strike down DOMA. With the current makeup of the court, I’m taking a “I’ll believe it when I see it” posture. Another thing to be mindful of is how narrowly tailored a ruling might be. A victory there could possibly only apply to Massachusetts. We won’t know until the actual day comes.
What we will see, however, is growing pressure on elected officials and other leaders to take a stand on the issue of marriage equality. And as we saw with Obama, taking such a courageous step isn’t the political death sentence it used to be.
“The President’s announcement that he supports marriage for gay couples had two major effects,” said Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, Director of Social Policy & Politics at Third Way and the author of the report that will be released Friday. “It indicated that the Democratic party is now solidly in the marriage camp, and it showed other nervous lawmakers that the politics have shifted to the point where marriage support now elicits more shrugs than backlash.” Backlash from voters is one thing. Backlash in the form a negative ruling from the High Court is another. That’s why what’s happening in Minneapolis is important.
Elected officials (and some regular folks) will be taking a stand on equality for their fellow Americans. More states could join New York in legalizing same-sex marriage if they had leaders who led on marriage equality. DOMA could be overturned if there were enough people of goodwill on Capitol Hill to make it happen. That’s what happened with “don’t ask don’t tell.” If the ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military could be tossed out, then a ban on committed same-sex couples seeking to make their relationships secure and their families whole through marriage should be next.