Gay rights activists are pushing ahead with a well-financed, coordinated campaign that aims to legalize same-sex marriage in about a dozen key states within three years. But they face fierce resistance from conservative groups and their allies in state legislatures and Congress who hope to stymie any momentum coming out of the past week’s rulings on the issue.
This pitched political battle — which has cost each side millions of dollars and is poised to escalate — will help determine how broadly same-sex marriage is adopted over the coming decade or longer. It is also likely to play a major role in state and national elections in the near-term, as activists on both sides fight to win over the Republican voters and elected officials who are key to deciding the fight.
In two landmark decisions Wednesday, the Supreme Court cleared the way for federal recognition of legally married same-sex couples and gave an opening to California that allowed it to resume such unions there.
“Even before that moment, we were at work mapping the path forward toward expanding marriage equality,” said Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry. “We have our plans to get to a majority of Americans living in a freedom-to-marry state by 2016 and to grow public support to 60 percent by 2016.
. . .
We know we have the momentum, now we just have to do that work.”
But Reed, who heads the Faith & Freedom Coalition, said gay marriage activists are overstating their political advantage, given that 29 states define marriage as only between a man and a woman.
“You’re very hard-pressed if you look at the map and see how they move the bar much further,” Reed said, comparing it to the push for an Equal Rights Amendment four decades ago. “A public-policy movement that was viewed as inevitable in 1976 was by 1982 dead and finished.”
“They’ve been highly successful,” Tina Fetner, a sociology professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, said of the conservative movement. “What’s happened is highly historic, but lesbian and gay activists aren’t winning everything they fight for; in fact, it’s probably the other way around.”
State by state
Both sides agree that a half-dozen states will be pivotal over the next three years, with several more potentially in play after that. Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico and Oregon rank as the top near-term targets for gay rights activists, while opponents of same-sex marriage are hoping to gain ground in Indiana and Iowa.