Gay marriage is now legal in 37 states. Eighteen states have legalized it in the past six months alone. Meanwhile, public support continues to increase, with 61 percent of Americans saying they support gay marriage in a recent poll and just 35 percent opposed.
As gay marriage spreads across the country, in other words, Americans are becoming more accepting of it—and that could be a key factor as the Supreme Court takes up the issue in oral arguments on Tuesday. America, proponents argue, is now ready for gay marriage as never before.
As much as the many complicated legal questions before the Court, public opinion could be a crucial consideration as the justices contemplate a ruling that could legalize same-sex marriage nationally. Roe v. Wade is often cited as a decision that came before America was ready for it; Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for example, has said that while she believes in a woman’s right to have an abortion, the court went “too far, too fast” with Roe, and ended up damaging the abortion-rights movement as a result. The court is supposed to be above politics, but justices are leery of foisting sweeping social changes on the country.
Gay-marriage opponents now argue that legalizing gay marriage would provoke a similar backlash, unleashing a tide of anger at the court and galvanizing opposition to gay rights. But now that gay marriage is legal in so many states, that’s a harder argument to make, because the opposite has happened. Almost every state that has legalized gay marriage has seen it peacefully and uneventfully implemented. Even deeply culturally conservative states like Utah and West Virginia have now been allowing gay couples to marry for months, with little drama. There haven’t been mass protests in the streets; in fact, every state that has legalized gay marriage has seen a subsequent uptick in public support for it.