You probably didn’t realize it, what with all the talk about contraception and aspirin. But last week, particularly Friday, was a really big week for the gays. From same-sex marriage to protecting the rights of those legally married, the tribe took three steps forward and one step back on the road to equality.

Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) signed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage on Feb. 13, thus making the state the seventh in the union (and the District of Columbia) to do so. Not by the order of a court, but by the duly elected representatives of the people. Gregoire made it a priority in her State of the State speech earlier in this year. “Our Washington has always fought discrimination,” she said in January. “It’s time to do it again. It’s time for marriage equality. Let’s all stand together and make it happen. Let’s tell the children of same-sex couples that their parents’ relationship is equal to all others in the state.” The law takes effect on June 7.

Everything else took place last Friday.

By a one-vote margin, the Maryland House of Delegates passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage on Feb. 17. The Maryland Senate, which passed a similar measure last year, is expected to do so again. And, emulating the hands-on approach of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in that state’s successful passage of a marriage-equality law, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) is leading the effort to ensure the same outcome. As part of the deal to win passage in the House of Delegates, the law would not take effect until January 2013.

And then there’s New Jersey. Just as their counterparts in Washington state, both houses of the legislature passed a marriage-equality bill. But unlike Gregoire, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) vetoed the measure when it hit his desk last Friday. Not only that, he’s calling on the civil rights of gays and lesbians to be put up to a popular vote via a ballot referendum. The state legislature has until January 2014 to override Christie’s veto. Something state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) has promised to do.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department announced last Friday that it would not defend challenges to the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) made in a lawsuit filed by the Servicemember’s Legal Defense Network. According to Chris Geidner of Metro Weekly, McLaughlin v. Panetta challenges DOMA’s prohibition of equal treatment and benefits for servicemembers who have same-sex spouses and “asserts that several statutes impacting such benefits are unconstitutional themselves or are unconstitutional as interpreted in light of DOMA.”

This is a natural extension of the Obama administration’s view that DOMA is unconstitutional, a decision that was announced a year ago this Thursday. But this is the first time the administration is applying its stance in a military context. It’s one thing to get rid of “don’t ask don’t tell” to allow gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military. It’s another to defend the rights of their spouses to be treated with the same respect and dignity as the heterosexual wives and husbands of members of the armed forces.

This is what the road to equality always looks like: a seemingly never-ending and messy series of advancing and retreating steps that ultimately lead to a just resolution and a better society.