Gay Marriage in the United States, One Year Later

The landmark Supreme Court ruling led to a surge of same-sex marriages—and plenty of backlash.

Brendan McDermid / Reuters

It’s been a year since the Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in the United States. But for Julie Goodridge, who sued Massachusetts in 2001 for that right, there’s more work to be done in the LGBT-rights movement.

“One of the things that’s been really interesting is realizing that so many people think that we’re done, that we’ve got all the rights we need now that we can marry one another,” Goodridge said in a recent interview. “And of course, that’s not true. And it’s actually sort of distorting to have marriage in states where you can be kicked out of your home, where you can be refused service, where you might be ejected from the bathroom of your choice, and where you could lose your state job. It’s a tricky patchwork of protection depending on what state you live in.”

She pointed to Orlando, Florida, where this month dozens of people were shot and killed at a gay nightclub, a place of refuge for LGBT people. She was concerned that some political figures have described the massacre only as a terrorist act, and not as a hate crime.

She paused.

“You probably wanted me to say something like, ‘Oh, it feels so great, I can’t believe we’ve had marriage for a full year,’” she said.

Hillary Goodridge, Julie’s former partner, agreed. “I never saw same-sex marriage as the be-all and end-all of anything,” Hillary said in a separate interview.

The Goodridges, now divorced, were two of the seven same-sex couples in Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health, the case that in 2003 allowed gay people to wed in the U.S. for the first time. When I called Julie last June, minutes after the decision in Obergefell v. Hodges was announced, she was in tears. Before the ruling, same-sex marriage was already legal in 37 states and the District of Columbia, and a majority of the U.S. population supported it. Federal recognition—the recognition that prohibiting gay people from marrying violated their constitutional rights—was enormous. The ruling led to a surge in same-sex marriages in the year since, especially in the 13 states where it was outlawed.

But laws that provide other rights to LGBT people vary by state—the “patchwork of protection,” as Goodridge calls it. Twenty-nine states do not have laws that prohibit housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, according to the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT advocacy organization. Thirty states do not prohibit discrimination in public accommodations, which includes governmental spaces and private businesses, like restaurants, movie theaters, and shops. Sixteen states do not have protections against discrimination in hiring; in these states, a gay person can get married one day and be fired the next solely because of their sexual orientation.

The Goodridges said they expected backlash to Obergefellafter all, they’d been through it in Massachusetts. In the year since the Supreme Court ruling, some state legislatures have considered so-called “religious freedom” legislation that would allow people to refuse certain services—wedding ceremonies, therapy, whatever their business offers—to gay people on the basis of their religious beliefs. Last September, Kim Davis, a county clerk in Kentucky, became national news when she was jailed for refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses to couples. In recent months, “bathroom bills,” laws that require people to use public bathrooms that correspond with their gender at birth, have put the trans community squarely at the center of national debate over LGBT rights.

There have been wins for the LGBT equality movement, too. Major American companies, like American Airlines and Apple, have vehemently denounced bathroom bills. The Obama administration last month issued a warning to public-school administrators that discrimination against transgender students violates federal civil-rights law. Last week, President Obama announced the creation of the first national monument in U.S. history to honor LGBT civil rights.

Hillary Goodridge sees hope in the generation of Americans growing up in a post-Obergefell era. She recently spoke to a group of students at Brookline High School in Massachusetts at the school’s “day of dialogue,” a day of assemblies on issues within the LGBTQ community—something she couldn’t imagine taking place in the early 2000s.

“For them, it was stunning that there was a time when it was such a big deal that a man couldn’t marry a man or a woman couldn’t marry a woman,” she said.