Marriage equality is widely considered one of the hallmark civil rights issues of the twenty-first century.
It’s also been a highly visible wedge issue in American politics for the past twenty years at least — going back to 1996, when President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) into federal law.
Thirty U.S. states have constitutional bans on “same-sex marriage,”* while eight states have statutory bans (meaning the ban has not been adopted in the state constitution). Nine states have legalized marriage equality and three states — Rhode Island, New Jersey, and New Mexico — have neither banned nor legalized gay marriage.
One of the most well-known instances of a state passing an anti-marriage equality constitutional amendment was in California in 2008, through Proposition 8. After California voters approved Proposition 8 by a margin of 4.5 percent (in one of the most liberal states in the union, no less), groups across the country mobilized to challenge it in the courts.
Their efforts will finally come to an end at the end of the U.S. Supreme Court’s term in June, when the Court will render a decision on both Proposition 8 and DOMA. Until then, politicians of both major parties have come together to endorse marriage rights for all couples.
Top Republicans have signed a “friend-of-the-court” brief, urging the Court to overturn Proposition 8. The list of signatories includes Meg Whitman, a former California gubernatorial candidate, former Utah governor and 2012 candidate for president Jon Huntsman, Jr., and several White House staffers and aides from President George W. Bush’s two terms in office.
Just last year, the Republicans and Democrats held their respective national conventions. And while marriage equality was a major plank of the Democratic platform, the Republican Party’s platform merely doubled down on their strident opposition.
While marriage equality is only a small part of the overall fight for the full political and legal equality of gender and sexual minorities, there’s something a little bit refreshing about politicians and policymakers of all different points of view agreeing that the issue isn’t “special rights,” merely equal rights.
In addition to the new wave of Republicans who oppose Proposition 8, the White House announced that they, too, would be urging the Supreme Court to strike it down as a violation of the equal protection and due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. It’s not surprising that President Barack Obama would chime in — he was the first sitting president to endorse marriage equality (although he may not have said so if Vice President Joe Biden hadn’t done so first). But the Obama administration did not have any obligation to provide legal arguments in the case of Proposition 8.
The oral arguments in the Proposition 8 and DOMA cases will be on March 26.
Header image courtesy of Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times.
*In using the terms “same-sex” or “gay marriage,” I want to be clear that I am absolutely not meaning to erase others in the LGBTQIA community, I merely want to clarify that bans on the same explicitly apply to persons of the same biological sex. A marriage between a cis woman and a transgender woman would, to these states, constitute a marriage between one woman and one man* (keeping in mind that the legislatures in these states which HAVE banned gay marriage are more likely to identify individuals by their “sex” at birth rather than by their gender identity)