Wednesday's Supreme Court rulings were a significant step forward for advocates of gay marriage. In 25 days, if all goes as expected, same-sex couples in California will be able to wed. And because nearly one in eight Americans live in the state of California, the change is a significant one.
As Nate Silver points out in The New York Times, by August, nearly 95 million Americans — 30 percent of the country — will live in states where gay marriage is legal, more than double the number from a year ago.
Yet, 30 percent of Americans does not equal all Americans. More than 218 million people still don't live in states where same-sex marriage is legal. What happens to them?
Much to Mike Huckabee's chagrin, it looks like the United States will continue to push for legalized gay marriage in more and more states. A new CNN/ORC poll finds that 55 percent of Americans approve of same-sex marriage, and that total is 11 percentage points higher than it was during the beginning of Obama's first term. Most of the resistance comes from senior citizens, a sign that gay marriage will only become more accepted in the coming years.
Popular opinion, however, isn't law. The Supreme Court could have issued a broad ruling on Proposition 8 — by declaring all laws that ban gay marriage unconstitutional — and that would've legalized gay marriage across the country; instead, the court ruled narrowly, allowing same-sex marriage only in California.
So the battle to legalize gay marriage where it remains banned will move to each individual state government. As of now, 35 states explicitly prohibit same-sex marriage in their constitutions or state laws. Four states allow civil unions (with three of them banning same-sex marriage). Supporters in those states likely won't get much of an assist from Washington. President Obama has been, at best, a passive supporter of same-sex marriage, so he likely won't push any kind of federal legislation. But some say that isn't even what the people want. David Leonhardt, The New York Times' Washington bureau chief chimes in:
The Court and public opinion are in the same place: federal benefits for married same-sex couples but let states decide on marriage.
— David Leonhardt (@DLeonhardt) June 26, 2013
Without an assist from the Obama administration, where is gay marriage legislation likely to be passed next? Out of the 37 states where it isn't legal, there are 10 where support for same-sex marriage is at or above 50 percent, led by New Jersey (64 percent), Michigan (57 percent), and Virginia (56 percent). Efforts are underway in Oregon and Ohio to decide the issue at the polls in 2014. Nevada and Illinois also have same-sex marriage legislation in the works. And U.S. courts will continue to have an impact in this battle: Legal challenges to gay marriage bans are underway in Hawaii and New Mexico. For any couples who wed in a state where same-sex marriage is legal and then move to one where it isn't, legal recourse will also likely become a reality.
The process will drag on for some time, but could be hastened by increased support from Republican lawmakers. Three prominent GOP Senators — Rob Portman (Ohio), Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) — have publicly backed gay marriage. Others might be waiting until it's politically safe to follow suit, GOP strategist Steve Schmidt tells The Washington Post:
"The dirty secret of this entire debate is there are many, many Republican members of Congress who are sympathetic to and supportive of same-sex couples marrying, but just politically don't want to put themselves out there on the limb advocating for it. In politics, there are not many people who walk out to the propeller on matters of principle. That's what happens in the movies. That's not what happens in the Congress typically." [Washington Post]