Since August, Minnesota, New Jersey and Illinois have legalized same-sex marriage. Hawaii is poised to be next. New Mexico will probably follow sometime in the next few months. At present, well over 100 million Americans (37% of the population), live in a state where same-sex marriage is legal. All of us live in a country where the federal government grants recognition to marriages legally performed in these states.
So this begs the question: when will the other 34 states and five territories get off their collective asses and legalize same-sex marriage?
The territories will likely be a mixed bunch. Guam has discussed the issue, but hasn’t moved on it. Peurto Rico is heavily Democratic, but also heavily Catholic. Pope Francis has told everyone to basically stop worrying about the gays, but it remains to see if that’s going to matter. The US Virgin Islands, American Samoa and CNMI all have their own issues as well.
As for the various states, well…look at that map. The problems are basically where you’d expect them to be. Looking at another map may be informative.
That’s what laws against mixed-race marriages were like back in the day. And by “back in the day” I mean up until the late 1960s. The Supreme Court case that struck those laws down, Loving v Virginia, was decided less than five years before I was born. We were only two years away from landing on the Moon, and yet it was still illegal for a white and black person to get married in vast parts of the country.
There are some significant overlaps in that map. The last states to have anti-miscegenation laws are also, with the exception of Delaware, all states that ban gay marriage to greater or lesser degrees. These holdout states had to be dragged, sometimes almost literally, kicking and screaming into the 20th century.
Sadly, I think that’s what it’s going to come down to again. Some currently “red on the first map” states will be pragmatic and pass gay marriage laws. I expect Michigan and Nevada to take this route, and both to do it for money. Others will gradually sober up and take their mouths off the Tea Party exhaust pipe and simply realize, with good ole fashioned Midwestern populism, that what two consenting adults do together is their own damn business. Montana, the Dakotas and possibly Kansas will go this route. Oklahoma may, especially as word gets out that some of the Indian tribes there will perform gay marriages.
But we know what the real holdouts will be; the deep south. The place where people sometimes still refer to “the war of northern aggression” and think that Richard Nixon was dangerously liberal. What they think about Lyndon B. Johnson doesn’t even bear repeating. Most people in the south aren’t racist, that’s sure. But I think we can assume that if there’s any place where one can be fairly openly racist, the deep south is that place.
Mind you, this is several decades after Loving, after Martin Luther King, Jr, after school integration and after the Civil Rights Act. So, no, I’m willing to bet that the deep southern states, except maybe Florida will keep gay marriage illegal up until the bitter end when the Supreme Court forces them to accept it.
And when will that be? Well, it depends on what happens between now and January of 2017. If Obama gets another SCOTUS nomination or two (Scalia will probably hold on until he’s dead, but Thomas might leave), then my guess is somewhere around the 2018 or 2019 term. If there’s only a couple of the Dark Side-style conservatives left, it could happen then. It could happen earlier. Roberts has been slightly impressive over the last couple of years and has proven to be very good at figuring out where the winds of change are blowing.
Even then, I don’t imagine that we will get a full-on “all states must have gay marriages” ruling. That will probably not come until sometime next decade. But a ruling that says all states have to recognize any marriages legally performed in other states? That will come sooner and will frankly make a lot of sense.
It’s only been about ten years since Massachusetts became the first state with gay marriage. Oddly, pretty much nothing the anti-gay marriage crowd has predicted has come to pass, and now we have many, many other states joining the team. Soon more will, and this imperfect experiment of American equality will take another grand step forward.