Activists Say Gay Marriage Will Be Legal Across America in 5 Years

Today's Supreme Court rulings only legalize unions in California, but campaigners say they set the stage for fast changes nationwide.
More
ediewindsor.banner.reuters.jpg.jpg
Edie Windsor, plaintiff in the Supreme Court's Defense of Marriage Act case, arrives at a news conference in New York. (Reuters)

This post has been updated with additional information.

Gay-marriage advocates were celebrating Wednesday's Supreme Court decisions not just because of what they mean today -- making gay marriage legal in California and federal benefits available to married gay couples -- but what they could mean tomorrow.

As Andrew Cohen explains, the Court didn't take a position on the merits of the arguments for and against California's Proposition 8. But at the same time, it struck down the Defense of Marriage Act on broad constitutional grounds. Advocates believe that gives them an opening to challenge marriage bans in the 31 states where they're currently on the books. If they're right and the bans start to fall, gay marriage could quickly be legal across the nation.

"The principles the court articulated today mean we are going to have marriage equality in all 50 states," said David Boies, one of the lawyers on the winning side of the Prop 8 case. In the DOMA case, he said, the court "held that there was no rational basis, no legitimate justification, for discrimination against gay and lesbian citizens; that that kind of discrimination seriously harms us; and that there is no justification other than malice and disapproval" for it. Boies spoke to reporters on a conference call organized by the American Foundation for Equal Rights.

That reasoning, Boies said, deprives states of any constitutionally acceptable reason to continue to discriminate against gay couples. The Prop 8 case provided further support, he noted. By denying the initiative proponents standing to bring their case, the Court "held that the proponents had not suffered any injury -- that no harm to them came from marriage equality."

There are currently five cases in federal court and three in state courts challenging state marriage laws on constitutional grounds. Activists believe if any of those makes it to the Supreme Court, the justices are bound to rule in their favor based on today's decisions.

Boies and other advocates said it's too soon to start talking about a legal strategy going forward, though they've been anticipating this result for some time. They have "looked at laws in other jurisdictions," Boies said, and while it's not yet clear how challenges would be formulated, the DOMA decision contains "powerful arguments to knock those down."

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, set an ambitious goal for the gay-marriage movement. "Within five years, together, we will bring marriage equality to all 50 states."

Jump to comments
Presented by

Molly Ball is a staff writer covering national politics at The Atlantic.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What's the Number One Thing We Could Do to Improve City Life?

A group of journalists, professors, and non-profit leaders predict the future of livable, walkable cities


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Politics

Just In