Gay rights and the marriage march

It took a long time for same-sex marriage to win at the ballot box, but when it finally happened Tuesday, it happened in a big way. In the states where voters considered measures to recognize gay marriage rights — Maine, Maryland and Washington — all three won approval. In Minnesota, voters rejected a Proposition 8-like measure that would have embedded a ban on same-sex marriage in the state constitution.

Let’s not fool ourselves: This nation has a long way to go before all gay and lesbian couples enjoy full marriage rights. The vast majority of states ban gay marriage. But that is going to change. Polls over the last several years have shown steady increases in acceptance of same-sex marriage.

The changing attitudes were visible in more than just the four states that voted on ballot measures. In Iowa, for instance, state Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins kept his seat even though social conservatives sought his ouster because he was among the justices to rule in 2009 that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. Supporters of equal marriage rights were elected to legislatures in several states, and lawmakers in a few have said they will introduce marriage bills. And it is significant that on Tuesday, the nation for the first time elected a president who openly supports same-sex marriage (Obama said in 2008 that he opposed same-sex marriage but later changed his mind) and whose party adopted that stance in its platform, something that couldn’t have happened a decade ago.


PHOTOS: America votes

The nation is on a long, jagged ride that sometimes moves us closer to full marriage equality and then turns disappointingly back. In 2009, Maine’s governor signed a marriage rights bill into law; voters overrode it. This week, they changed their minds. As Tuesday’s election showed, through a combination of legislative efforts and ballot measures, gay marriage is working its bumpy way forward. But when lawmakers or voters deprive gay and lesbian couples of their civil rights — as California voters did when they approved Proposition 8 in 2008 — then it falls to the courts to step in and set things right. A federal appeals court did just that in California, declaring Proposition 8 unconstitutional. In less than two weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether to let that ruling stand.

We like to think that if Californians had been considering Proposition 8 all over again on Tuesday, they would have rejected it. At this point, though, it’s up to the nation’s high court to make clear what California voters failed to recognize: The right to wed should not be denied on the basis of sexual orientation.