In twin rulings issued Wednesday, the Supreme Court provided further momentum for the forces advocating for the right of gays and lesbians to marry, a political fight that has been moving rapidly in favor of legalization in recent years.
In declaring the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional and throwing out a challenge to unconstitutionality of California's Proposition 8, a ban on same-sex marriages, the Court effectively removed one of the major hurdles in the quest for the right to marry for gays and lesbians.
Consider this: Had the Court upheld DOMA and/or overturned the Prop. 8 decision by the lower courts, it would have almost certainly emboldened the forces pushing for marriage to remain as between one man and one woman. That movement was vibrant in the mid 2000s -- remember that in 2004 the presence of a gay marriage ban on the ballot in 11 states was widely credited with turning out GOP voters and ensuring President Bush's re-election victory -- but has faded of late. (Three states legalized same-sex marriage via ballot initiative in 2012.)
But, the Court didn't do that -- and, in fact, in regards DOMA, they did the opposite. What that means, from a practical political perspective, is that the movement toward the legalization of gay marriage that we have seen in public opinion polls in recent years will either hold steady or perhaps even increase.
Three charts -- culled from polling done by the Washington Post and ABC News -- tell the story of that momentum better than words could.
The first shows the remarkably rapid shift in views on gay marriage among the general public. As recently as 2010, more Americans thought it should be illegal for gay couples to marry than thought it should be legal.
The second shows that the shift on gay marriage is far more driven by age than party affiliation. For example, a majority of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents who are between 18-49 years old actually support the legalization of gay marriage.
The third chart suggests that it's not only young people who are growing more and more accepting of gay marriage but that every generation is growing more accepting of the idea as they age. That’s a critically important finding since it suggests that as young people age — and as middle-aged people grow older — they don’t reverse course and become less supportive of the idea of gay people being married.
The truth is that even before the Court handed down its rulings on DOMA and Prop. 8 today, the writing was on the political wall. It's why a number of prominent Republican political operatives signed on to an amicus brief in support of gay marriage during the Prop. 8 arguments before the Supreme Court.
Today's ruling will only further that movement as states -- both legislatively and through the electoral process -- may, emboldened by the Court's decision, move to legalize gay marriage.