With the world seeming to come apart at the seams over the past 24 hours, I want to point to some good news here at home. The fourth annual State of Relationship Recognition report will be released on Monday by the centrist think tank Third Way with this key joyful nugget: “44 percent of Americans now live in states where gay couples can marry; 54 percent live in a jurisdiction that legally recognizes gay couples’ relationships.” According to Sarah Trumble and Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, authors of the report, 2014 is “the very first year an American is more likely to live in a place with relationship recognition than in a place without it.”
The rapid advance of marriage equality across the United States can be traced back to the Supreme Court’s invalidation last year of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in United States v. Windsor. Since then, seven states have legalized same-sex marriage, bringing the total to 19 states plus the District of Columbia. Colorado has civil unions. Nevada, Wisconsin and localities within 13 states where gay marriage is illegal have a domestic partnership registry. And ever since the victory in Windsor, all 25 court challenges to state bans on marriage equality succeeded.
In some states—like Oregon and New Jersey—the governor or attorney general chose not to appeal the Court’s decision, and gay couples have been able to marry in those states ever since. In others, the ruling was appealed but not immediately stayed—allowing more than 3,300 gay couples in Arkansas, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Utah to marry during a small window of time that has since closed. Other rulings—striking down the marriage bans in Colorado, Florida’s Monroe County, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia—were immediately stayed pending appeal and are still moving through the court system.
Currently, there are 59 pending marriage cases in the federal courts, with at least one in every circuit except the 2nd and DC circuits (because gay couples can already marry everywhere in their jurisdictions). There are also 33 separate pending marriage cases in the state courts—including cases to either legalize marriage for gay couples or recognize marriages performed legally in another state in every single state where it is not yet legal for gay and lesbian couples to marry.
Wait a minute, this just in moments ago: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit just upheld a ruling that overturned Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage. The decision is stayed pending the expected appeal by state officials. Still, the number of legal victories now stands at 26.
Trumble and Hatalsky point out that because the state of Utah appealed the marriage-equality ruling to the Supreme Court, the justices could rule on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry by next year. Quite a turnaround after years of losses in the courts and on the ballot as the basic civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans were denied by judges and voters. While we’re not out of the woods yet, the clearing is well in sight.
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