Six months after Maryland, Maine and Washington voters endorsed same-sex marriage at the ballot box, two more states have adopted laws allowing gay couples to marry, and a third is poised to join them. On Tuesday, lawmakers in Delaware adopted a same-sex marriage law, and Minnesota's
Polls show that nearly 60 percent of Americans now believe gay marriage should be legal, up from less than 40 percent only a decade ago. Among young people, about 8 in 10 think gay couples should be allowed to marry, a trend that clearly favors wider acceptance of such unions in the future. The evolution of public opinion on same-sex marriage is in line with a broader movement toward recognition of gay rights that has manifested itself over the last year in spheres as varied as the Boy Scouts, professional sports teams and the military.
The Supreme Court is currently considering two cases related to same-sex marriage, one that could establish it as a right under the Constitution and another that could overturn the
Just as the court's finding in the 1954 Brown school segregation case that racially separate schools were inherently unequal eventually became accepted as conventional wisdom, so too will the idea of a second-class version of marriage for gay couples come to seem equally unfair. It's up to the justices to decide which side of history they want to be on.
Barring sweeping action by the court, the progression toward equality may be due for some difficult times. Illinois lawmakers believe they will soon have the votes to support gay marriage, but there may be only a handful of other states left where marriage equality is likely to be approved in the foreseeable future. Virtually all the others are controlled by Republican state legislatures whose members generally have been far less sympathetic to legalizing gay unions than their Democratic counterparts, and many have constitutional provisions against gay marriage that will make progress harder to achieve.
Over the short term, the GOP's ability to block legislation allowing same-sex couples to marry might seem an insurmountable barrier to extending gay rights. But given the demographic trend toward increasing acceptance of gay rights, the Republican Party's opposition to equality is likely to become a liability in national elections. In 2012, the Obama campaign used the issue to energize the Democratic base and produce big wins in purple states like Virginia and Florida where Republicans control the legislature.
To their credit, some Republican lawmakers have begun to speak out in favor of marriage equality. They include some high-profile names such as Sen.
At some point, the GOP is either going to have to recognize that its reflexive opposition to extending marriage rights is counterproductive in terms of winning back the White House and Senate, or see itself reduced to a permanent opposition party whose ambitions to govern are constrained by the views of its most conservative voters. That may be just fine with the lawmakers who succeed in getting elected with their support, but it's bad for the party as a whole and bad for the country as well.