2013: The year gay marriage won

Even Karl Rove thinks the next GOP presidential candidate might support same-sex marriage

DOMA Prop 8
(Image credit: (REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn))

For a sign of how far the gay rights movement has come this year, look no further than the LGBT magazine The Advocate, and who it named person of the year:

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"While 2013 will be remembered for the work of hundreds in advancing marriage equality," the magazine wrote, "it will also be remembered for the example of one man."

And indeed, 2013 is likely to be remembered as the year that marriage equality finally broke through. From statehouses to the Supreme Court, and from shifting public opinion to politicians' "evolutions," the year saw many milestones.

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Of course, 2013 could not have happened were it not for what immediately preceded it. It was last year, after all, that President Obama finally embraced same-sex marriage.

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That powerful message, since retweeted more than 58,000 times, lent incredible weight to the movement. A few months later, voters in Maine, Maryland, and Washington approved gay marriage at the ballot box, while Minnesotans nixed a proposed constitutional amendment to ban it.

Those victories would only presage what was to come.

Early in 2013, a rash of lawmakers began to come out in favor of same-sex marriage. By early April, all but three sitting Democratic senators supported gay marriage, while two GOP senators, Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio), had publicly endorsed it as well.

For the first time in history, a majority of the Senate supported marriage equality.

Then in May, for the first time ever, Pew found that a majority of Americans supported same-sex marriage as well. It marked an important symbolic achievement, and reflected how rapidly Americans had come around the issue; a decade ago, barely one-third of Americans supported marriage equality.

One month later, the Supreme Court delivered two landmark rulings on the issue, both victories for same-sex marriage. In the first, the court struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which barred the government from extending benefits to same-sex couples.

"The power the Constitution grants it also restrains," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote. "And though Congress has great authority to design laws to fit its own conception of sound national policy, it cannot deny the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment."

In the second ruling, the court struck down California's gay marriage ban, Proposition 8. Though the court opted for a more restrained ruling rather than a broad one — the justices could potentially have nullified all state-level bans on gay marriage — the precedent prompted a host of legal challenges across the country.

In an emotional moment after the ruling, President Obama called the plaintiffs from Air Force One to personally congratulate them on the victory:

Then there were the major victories in individual states.

At the start of the year, same-sex couples could legally wed in nine states and the District of Columbia. That number has doubled, such that 18 states now permit same-sex marriages. In the two most recent instances, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled last Thursday that it was unconstitutional to de facto ban gay marriage by denying same-sex couples marriage licenses. (The state was the only one in the nation with no law acknowledging nor banning gay marriage.) One day later, a federal judge in Utah struck down that state's gay marriage ban.

More states could soon follow. There are already lawsuits challenging state-level bans — many of them citing the DOMA ruling — pending in at least a dozen states. Michigan's gay marriage ban will go before a federal judge in February.

This year also saw the Senate pass a historic bill to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. And Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R), who notably fought to keep his state's unconstitutional sodomy ban intact, lost his gubernatorial bid.

Meanwhile, Houston and Seattle elected gay mayors. And New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), a potential leading GOP candidate for president, dropped a legal challenge to same-sex marriage in his state. Perhaps Karl Rove will be proven right that the next Republican presidential candidate might support same-sex marriage.

And to cap it off, Obama opted not to boycott the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, over that nation's anti-gay propaganda laws. Instead, he sent a stronger message by announcing the U.S. delegation would include several gay athletes.

With momentum behind it, the gay rights movement is poised for another big year in 2014. And as gay marriage steadily moves from the fringe to the norm across the country, 2013 will likely be remembered as the year where the dam finally broke.

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