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The Gay Marriage Race: Which State Will Be Next?

by Cody Lyon
Contributor
Thursday Jun 5, 2008
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Whither California, the nation? That’s the question LGBT activists and just-plain folks across the country are asking. Will legalizing marriage in the California Republic set off a wave of such actions across the country? Judging from what happened in New York, it may already have. EDGE analyzes the move toward (and away from) gay marriage state by state and handicaps the race to be next in line to the altar.

When California’s highest court ruled in May that gay marriage was legal in the state, it put in motion what is expected to be a stampede of couples from other states. Indeed, there have been several articles about businesses rubbing their hands with glee over the out-of-state dollars to decision will bring into a depressed local economy.

Even with the damper put on the festivities by the approval of a ballot initiative to annul the decision, the months between June and November, when it comes before voters, will see thousands of same sex couples from across the nation traveling to California and utilize the benefits of the State Supreme Court ruling.

The reason is simple: California, unlike Massachusetts, is the first state to allow couples from other states to come there and take advantage of the landmark ruling’s benefits and return home. In most cases, at least for now, the certificate they hold will only convey local or symbolic benefits.

Despite that major caveat, in mid June, local officials throughout the state will begin issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples from anywhere. That in itself will perhaps inspire a brand new gay meaning to California Dreaming all across the land.

"I wouldn’t be surprised to see 10, 20 maybe up to 30 thousand couples traveling here between June and November," said Brad Sears, Executive Director at the Williams Institute at UCLA. That’s a lot of floral arrangements and honeymoon suites. "The vast majority will return to states that don’t recognize their marriage," he added.

Still, shortly after the California Supreme court decision, on the other side of the country in the nation’s second-most populous state, New York, LGBT ally Governor David Patterson instructed all state agencies to recognize same sex marriages from other states as valid. Paterson’s unprecedented action, which is being challenged in court by religious groups and some GOP legislators, adds yet another nugget of hope and some bi-coastal headway into the complicated horse race to eventual full marriage equality in the United States.

LGBT celebratory bells and whistles over the May California Supreme court decision were due in large part to the landmark and bellwether nature of a decision coming from the country’s exporter of American culture and social mores. Many activists and supporters of marriage equality are now saying that the court ruling’s impact could be several fold.

Court Action: to the Top
First, California courts have a heavy influence on other state courts and legislative bodies. Perhaps more importantly, it may change public opinion to an acceptance of the inevitability of gay marriage, no matter how begrudging.

All agree, the road to full marriage equality will be a yearlong process that follows a map of state-by-state activism and struggle. Eventually, the courts will pass it off to an eventual federal solution-provided fast-evolving public opinion in our favor prevails in the ballot box.

"The thing that could really bring uniformity to this issue is that the United States Supreme Court would decide that its against the federal constitution that marriage is restricted to just men and women," Sears pointed out.

But Sears cautions that he does not see that national victory line being crossed anytime soon.

"I don’t see that happening without their first being a lot of court and legislative development on the state level, " he said. "The court tends to first take the temperature of the states on social issues. Look at when they (the court) said sodomy laws were un-constitutional."

"At the time of the 1986 Bowers vs. Hardwick case, about half the states still had sodomy laws and the national court ruled that sodomy laws were still constitutional."

But by the time of the landmark 2003 Lawrence vs. Texas case, when the court revisited the issue, only 13 states had sodomy laws. The court then ruled them Un-constitutional. Sears sees the marriage process going on for three to five years before the Supreme Court tackles it.

Next: From Hawaii to DOMA



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