Marriage Equality Update: Ten and Counting

picture of marriage equalityRhode Island is the Tenth State to Legalize Gay Marriage

With the May 2, 2013 passage of its same-sex marriage bill, Rhode Island became the tenth U.S. state to recognize gay marriage. The new law takes effect in Rhode Island on August 1, 2013, when same-sex marriage ceremonies will begin taking place.

As of the writing of this post, gay marriage is legal in 10 U.S. states – Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington – plus the District of Columbia.

More States are Following Suit: Delaware will Become the 11th

With all major polls now showing that a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage, other states are quickly following suit. Just today, the Delaware Senate voted to legalize gay marriage. The bill now goes to Democratic Governor Jack Markell, who has already promised to sign it.

On May 9, the Minnesota state House will vote on a same-sex marriage bill: Minnesota House Speaker Paul Thissen says he believes the Democratic majority has enough votes to pass the bill. A vote in Illinois may follow later this month. The Illinois state Senate has already passed the marriage equality bill, as has a House committee. If it gets approval in the full House vote, the bill goes to Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, who vowed to sign it.

And we’re very close to resolution on the landmark California Proposition 8 and DOMA cases, both of which were heard by the U.S. Supreme Court this past March.

What’s the Proposition 8 Case all About?

“Prop. 8” is the 2008 California ballot measure that effectively overturned the California Supreme Court’s ruling that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. Prop. 8 amended the California Constitution to recognize only those marriages between a man and a woman.

In 2010, Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker overturned Prop. 8, finding that it discriminated against same-sex couples in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and upheld Judge Walker’s decision, but Prop. 8 supporters appealed the ruling. On March 26, 2013, the Supreme Court, or SCOTUS, heard oral argument on the Prop. 8 case and took it under submission.

In a nutshell, the Supremes are reviewing a 9th Circuit decision that addressed the freedom to marry in California. SCOTUS may uphold (or overturn) the 9th Circuit’s decision as it applies to California, or rule more broadly and issue a decision that has far-reaching effects on same-sex marriage recognition across the country.

What are the Issues in the DOMA case?

The federal Defense of Marriage Act or “DOMA” was enacted by Congress in 1996 to nullify same-sex marriage for purposes of federal law. DOMA defines marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman, and prohibits all same-sex married couples from receiving federal benefits opposite-sex married couples receive, such as Social Security benefits, tax benefits and immigration status. SCOTUS heard oral argument regarding the challenge to DOMA on March 27, 2013 – the day after the Prop. 8 oral argument took place.

If the Supremes strike down DOMA’s definition of marriage, same-sex married couples will be entitled to the same federal benefits opposite-sex couples receive.

There’s no way to predict SCOTUS’s rulings, but stay tuned – decisions in both cases are expected as early as June 2013. However these cases play out, it’s clear that the marriage equality movement is gaining widespread support and legal validation across the country.