All eyes will be on Washington later this month, as the United States Supreme Court has announced that on September 29, they will consider whether to hear one or more of the federal marriage equality cases in their current term. If they take one of the cases, we could have a nationwide marriage ruling as soon as June 2015.
We reflected on the road that has led us to this point as we sat in the courtroom here at the 9th Circuit in San Francisco, where we recently attended oral arguments in the federal marriage equality cases for Nevada, Idaho, and Hawaii. Inside the courtroom, the lack of credible anti-equality arguments was evident, as demonstrated by the dubious analogies to sticks and balls repeatedly used by Monte Stewart, the lawyer arguing in favor of anti-marriage equality laws in both the Idaho and Nevada cases. If you weren’t there, you might have been confused by news items such as this one from Boise State Public Radio: “Stewart mentioned crystal balls several times during the hour long hearing”—a surreal turn that felt to those in the courtroom like the other side had clearly run out of ideas.
Outside the courtroom, we were reminded of the true meaning of love and marriage when we learned there are newlyweds in our family. The announcement came, not from one of our younger siblings or cousins, but from my 93-year-old uncle who married the wonderful woman who has spent the last four decades by his side. At the same time as the anti-equality lawyers before the 9th Circuit were arguing that straight couples will no longer wed or stay married once same-sex couples are able to marry, my uncle and aunt proved the opposite to be true. They married for the exact same reasons that all couples marry: to love, comfort, honor, and keep each other in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.
Upon hearing their wedding news, one of our cousins remarked on the common themes that unite us in matrimony, whether gay or straight, young or old: “So sweet that they have decided to get married at this late date! Also wise, since it will give them the rights they deserve…just the same rights that same-sex marriage advocates are rightly fighting for.”
As a family, we see many parallels to the current marriage equality debates taking place today in courtrooms and dining rooms all across America. As a child of interracial parents who grew up in the 1960s, I know exactly what Judge Posner meant when he wrote earlier this month in the 7th Circuit marriage cases that asking interracial couples in the 1960s to accept “same-race unions” instead of marriage would have been “considered deeply offensive, and, having no justification other than bigotry…”
We are very thankful that the United States Supreme Court ruled in 1967 that interracial couples have the freedom to marry all across our country. Today, as a gay American married in California, I know the time has come for the Supreme Court to rule that LGBTQ Americans in all 50 states have the basic human right to marry the person they love. We hope that as soon as next summer the justices do exactly that.
John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, together for nearly three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008.
Never before has the legal case for nationwide marriage equality seemed stronger than at the recent Federal Court of Appeal’s argument in the Indiana and Wisconsin marriage cases. For nearly two hours, the Seventh Circuit panel of three judges, appointed by Presidents Reagan, Clinton, and Obama, tore gaping holes in every argument the states’ attorneys defending Indiana and Wisconsin’s marriage bans offered.
The states’ attorneys sometimes appeared at a loss for words or flustered, and the Wisconsin attorney even tried, unsuccessfully, to evade answering one of the Court’s questions by suggesting his time was up when it wasn’t. One judge referred to various arguments the states made as “feeble,” “absurd,” “ridiculous,” and “pathetic.” The states’ attorneys came up with nothing credible to defend the bans. When the Court asked Wisconsin’s attorney how ending the exclusion of LGBT couples from marriage would harm anyone else, he responded: “…[w]e don’t know.”
Perhaps the most important aspect of the argument was the respect all three judges evidenced for the dignity of LGBT Americans and their children. For decades, opponents of equality have slandered LGBT Americans by falsely accusing them of being harmful to children—be it Anita Bryant’s 1970s “Save the Children” campaigns, or the 2008 Proposition 8 campaign. Last year, the United States Supreme Court, in its decision striking down DOMA, held the opposite: anti-LGBT laws, in fact, harm children of LGBT parents.
The Supreme Court stated that DOMA “humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples…mak[ing] it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives…” The Seventh Circuit went further, with one judge referring to many of the harms that the states’ marriage bans have inflicted on children of LGBT parents as “harrowing” and noting America’s history of “savage” discrimination against lesbian and gay people based on “hate.”
Indiana and Michigan’s attorneys argued that their states could continue to bar same-sex couples from marriage because they claimed the purpose of marriage was to encourage unmarried heterosexuals who engage in sexual activity in which the woman became pregnant to stay together. The Court asked why the states did not criminalize heterosexual “fornication” outside of marriage instead, and it noted that the states’ current laws actually penalize LGBT couples who carefully plan their families.
One judge presented data showing that, in fact, from 1990-2009, years in which the same-sex marriage bans were in place, the proportion of out-of-marriage births increased 68% in Indiana and 53% in Wisconsin, with the out-of marriage birth rate for some demographic profiles over 90%. Noting that the states’ purported policy of banning same-sex marriage to prevent out-of-marriage births was “pretty unsuccessful,” the judge named the states’ argument for what it was, an ”artificial rationale” to exclude same-sex couples from marriage.
On Monday, September 8, the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco hears oral arguments in the Idaho, Nevada, and Hawaii cases. Stay tuned.
John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, together for nearly three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008.
Imagine living as an LGBT person in a country of over 120 million people where sexual expression between people of the same gender has essentially never been criminalized, where no conservative Christian political movement exists, and where violent crime is so low that gun ownership is less than one percent that of the United States.
That country is Japan. For the last two years, we have had the honor of being invited to Japan to give public talks, participate in symposiums, and teach classes about the movement for marriage equality in the United States. We have also met with numerous LGBT leaders across the country to share our experiences, compare conditions for LGBT people in our two countries, and to talk about strategies for achieving full equality.
We received the invitation to speak in Japan from a heterosexual Japanese professor of Asian American studies who heard us give a presentation in the United States. This professor has a three year old child and realized that her child could turn out to be LGBT, and that LGBT equality was not just an issue for which she could be an ally, but was her issue, too. She wanted her child to be able to grow up in a world where he could be free to be who he was without hiding and without facing discrimination.
Japanese society’s relative lack of public hostility to LGBT people appears to be a double-edged sword to Japanese LGBT people’s living their lives openly with full equality. Less adversity can reduce the sense of urgency to enact laws to protect LGBT people. Harmony is one of the most important societal values in Japan, and many Japanese LGBT people told us that coming out is particularly difficult in Japan, largely due to pressure to conform and to social expectations. Although Japanese LGBT people benefit greatly from the low risk of physical violence, many appear to fear losing their jobs if they come out.
The issue of marriage equality is particularly complex in Japan. For many, Japan’s marriage law seems to be outdated, not just from its exclusion of LGBT couples, but as it applies to heterosexual couples. For example, Japanese marriage law requires one of the spouses (in practice, nearly always the woman) to change her name and taxes a second spouse’s income so severely that many spouses have no financial incentive to pursue a career. Japanese LGBT activists are developing a partnership law open to all couples that remedies these limitations and serves the needs of modern couples – as they work for marriage equality as well.
Using marriage equality as a barometer of public attitudes on LGBT equality, recent polling revealed that 70 percent of Japanese in their 20s and 30s support marriage equality. Although support among the population as a whole is not as high as in some industrialized nations, 40 percent of Japanese are still undecided on the issue, and those who have made up their mind overwhelmingly support equality. We believe that the future for LGBT people in Japan is bright.
By MEUSA Legal and Policy Director John Lewis and MEUSA Communications Director Stuart Gaffney
On our recent trip to Japan to speak on LGBTQ rights for Marriage Equality USA, we had the honor of addressing the crowd at Pink Dot Okinawa, a wonderful event with over 1,000 attendees who were treated to music, dance, speeches, and a beautiful marriage ceremony for Kazuki and Harold -- when the happy couple exchanged vows there was not a dry eye in the crowd.
Kazuki is from Okinawa, while Harold is American -- because they met during the days of DOMA they had to go into exile in order to be together. Luckily they were able to find work, live and marry in Canada. During that time, Kazuki's family back in Japan was not accepting of their relationship, but over the years their love has prevailed. An emotional highlight of Pink Dot Okinawa was the reading of a touching letter written by Kazuki's mother to celebrate the love of her son and son-in-law and to express her wishes for their happiness as a married couple.
Amazing events don't happen by themselves, and Pink Dot Okinawa is no exception -- it is the brainchild of Hideki Sunagawa, an activist and HIV/AIDS community worker for over a quarter century and one of the founders of Tokyo Pride. Hideki is also an academic with a PhD in cultural anthropology, and he brings that wisdom to his activism. In Hideki's own words:
"Though at this point in time Japan provides no legal recognition or protection for same-sex couples, we have reached a point where more and more same-sex couples are holding ceremonies like their heterosexual counterparts. Many gays and lesbians have been encouraged by these open and public celebrations of love and devotion, and as a result feel far more hopeful about building a future with their partners. ...the truth is that in Japan, most LGBTQ people with life partners do not or feel as if they cannot introduce them to their families. As such, I’ve come to think that by holding a public ceremony here in Kazuki’ s birthplace of Okinawa, we may be able to provide some hope for both those in the audience and Okinawa’ s local LGBTQ community in general. ... it is our belief that this event will not only allow the people of Okinawa to put faces to the idea of a same-sex couple, but also help to lay a groundwork for other such ceremonies throughout Japan."
This dream became a reality at Pink Dot Okinawa 2014 because of Hideki and an amazing team of hard-working and fun-loving volunteers who created a loving space in the central square of Naha, Okinawa. There are too many wonderful people we met there to name everyone individually, but we were inspired by the tireless efforts of Norito Irei who was with us from beginning to end, even introduced us to Okinawan cuisine, and then joined us for a presentation the following day at Okinawa University where he spoke movingly about his own experience growing up gay in Okinawa and what it’s like coming out there and in the United States.
Pink Dot started in Singapore and now includes events for LGBTQ acceptance around the world in places as diverse as Hong Kong, Kaohsiung, Montreal, and Salt Lake City. Our trip to Japan and the experience of Pink Dot Okinawa has filled us with hope in the power of love to create change around the world.
By MEUSA National Media Director Stuart Gaffney and MEUSA Director of Legal & Policy John Lewis
Celebrating the third anniversary of marriage equality in New York, over 100 Marriage Equality USA members and supporters boarded the Hornblower Yacht in New York City last Sunday for a night of food, fun, friends and music.
This annual MEUSA tradition has become one of the most fun events of the year. It is a chance for us to meet new friends from other organizations and local MEUSA supporters. Check out the photo gallery from the event!
As a gay person, North Carolinian, volunteer working against Amendment One, and now full-time marriage equality advocate, I was thrilled by today's 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in Bostic v. Schaefer and its potential - eventually - to erase the stain of Amendment One from North Carolina's constitution. Like the other 28 court rulings since last year's landmark Windsor case, the 4th Circuit decision declares yet another& anti-marriage equality ban unconstitutional. Here is my favorite quote from the decision:
Civil marriage is one of the cornerstones of our way of life. It allows individuals to celebrate and publicly declare their intentions to form lifelong partnerships, which provide unparalleled intimacy, companionship, emotional support, and security. The choice of whether and whom to marry is an intensely personal decision that alters the course of an individual's life. Denying same-sex couples this choice prohibits them from participating fully in our society, which is precisely the type of segregation that the Fourteenth Amendment cannot countenance.
Though this decision was about the Virginia ban, implications have the potential to go beyond Virginia since the 4th Circuit has jurisdiction over other states without the freedom to marry, like North Carolina, as well as West Virginia and South Carolina. I say “potential” because the ruling does not take effect for at least 21 days and could be appealed to the full 4th Circuit or the Supreme Court of the United States(a.k.a. SCOTUS).
As Chris Brook, Legal Director of the ACLU of NC, explained to me, it’s likely that the ruling will not become final for a while. He thinks that SCOTUS will probably review the case. If this happens, Bostic could be the case, or one of the cases, SCOTUS will use to make an ultimate constitutional ruling. I fully expect SCOTUS to affirm that there is a constitutional right to the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. This 50-state-solution ruling, some lawyers predict, could come as early as June 2015 or 2016.
The more immediate “potential” of Bostic – as outlined by the ACLU of NC and Equality North Carolina – is if SCOTUS does not review the case. Then, couples can marry in Virginia and courts in North Carolina and the other two states can issue orders to apply the Bostic precedent in their state rendering those laws unconstitutional. Knowing that a similar law in Virginia has been ruled unconstitutional by the governing circuit court, local clerks and governmental officials might start marrying couples even before the state court issues orders. However, it's not clear if state or federal government would recognize those marriages.
You see, I have a history with Amendment One. I was deeply involved in doing field work to defeat it for about a year -- from before it passed the NC General Assembly in September 2011 (by one vote) to the months leading up to when it overwhelmingly passed on 8 May 2012. I even resigned from my full-time job as a research manager to do all I could to defeat it; running 33 phone banks, speaking around the state and even being in a documentary about it, One: A Story of Love and Equality – which will be screened at the NC Gay and Lesbian Film Festival on August 17th and 21st.
All along, I instinctively knew Amendment One was unconstitutional. I felt it most strongly when I woke up on 9 May 2012, the morning after it passed overwhelmingly. I felt like we LGBTQ people had been “voted off the island” by our fellow North Carolinians. It felt like the tyranny of the majority – where decisions of a majority place their interests above those of an often misunderstood minority group. Amendment One – and other laws like it - was against what I understood America was all about. When I rode my bike in the Fourth of July parade at age seven (pictured below with a rainbow sweater on -- and I didn’t know!), I was proud of what our country stood for – freedom and equal opportunity. When Amendment One passed, it was a vote to restrict some people’s freedom to marry as an abuse of religious freedom. It felt un-American. In America, we tolerate differences and we don’t deny people rights just because we don’t understand them – or at least, we don’t do this indefinitely. We eventually come to our collective senses.
Yet despite the profound disappointment and loss we LGBTQ North Carolinians and our allies felt when Amendment One passed, the light at the end of the long, dark tunnel of voter-approved bans on our freedom to marry appeared the very next day – and has only gotten brighter and brighter since then.
Below is a summary of the things that have helped erode support for Amendment One, and laws like it nationwide. It includes my perspective watching the movement unfold as a full-time advocate with an up-close view -- as either a spectator with a “front row seat” or as a “player on the field.”
1) On May 9, 2012, President Obama came out for marriage equality in a TV interview. Then on 19 May 2012, the NAACP - encouraged by NC’s esteemed NAACP leader William Barber - also endorsed marriage equality. This had a big “permission giver” effect. I recall one poll where support among African American voters in Maryland, for example, shot up shortly after.
From June until November, I worked for a pro-equality state senator who was running against someone I considered the “son of Amendment One.” After that unfortunate loss, and a new Republican super-majority in both houses, prospects of overturning Amendment One were even bleaker. North Carolinians had to look to other states for any movement on this issue.
2) Amazingly, four states won their marriage-related campaigns at the ballot in November 2012 – three to pass marriage equality (MD, ME and WA) and one (MN) to defeat another marriage ban. Having lived through the North Carolina experience (which had been common in about 30 other states before us), I was astounded at these results. I attended conferences in DC and Atlanta to find out how we won. It wasn’t just that sometime in 2012 many national polls showed a new majority supported the freedom to marry. Our movement had also gotten smarter about messaging in our campaigns. We dropped our focus on legal rights. Instead, beautiful TV commercials conveyed positive messages by “straight messengers” like:
- treat people as they would want to be treated
- same-sex couples marry for the same reasons everyone else does (i.e., love, family, protection and commitment)
- parents (not schools) teach their kids values
- it is not for us to judge
- freedom means freedom to everyone
3) In May 2013, I was lucky enough to get a job doing what I wanted to do – be a professional advocate for marriage equality. I moved to New York City to start working for Marriage Equality USA on May 8th – which was symbolically exactly a year after Amendment One had passed. Just after both Delaware and Rhode Island passed marriage equality, I began running phone banks in Times Square for Minnesota and Illinois, followed by New Jersey, Indiana and New Mexico for the National Equality Action Team (NEAT). MEUSA leads this coalition of nearly 50 organizations. For each state campaign, we had phone bankers calling voters in those states virtually from across the country -- including many volunteers I recruited from North Carolina. In fact, we set up a phone bank specifically for Illinois and then Indiana and New Mexico at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh. Our proudest moments were in assisting Illinois with over 700 voicemail messages left for 12 swing legislators – six of whom went our way – and marriage equality passed by just one vote. Likewise, in Indiana – which is arguably more conservative than North Carolina - we contributed to a close vote where legislators changed their extreme Amendment One-like bill, preventing it from going to the ballot in 2014 – and likely ever. At this point, I do not think it’s politically possible for any other state to even propose an anti-marriage equality amendment; their time has passed. North Carolina has the distinction of being the last state to pass one of these, and depending on what happens with SCOTUS and the Bostic case, it may be the shortest-lived amendment.
4) The big game-changer was the Windsor decision on June 26, 2013. One cannot overstate its impact. It has bolstered the case for marriage equality in federal courts, resulting in victory after victory with no losses. There are now 76 lawsuits among all the states that do not have marriage equality, including three that challenge Amendment One directly.
I had the opportunity - though our former long-time Board Chair Cathy Marino-Thomas – to ask Edie Windsor what gave her the courage to persist despite people saying her case was premature and could backfire with SCOTUS. Here is her reply in this short video:
5) Immediately after Windsor, federal discrimination against legally married, same-sex couples started to end – agency by agency – when they based their definition of who was married on the state in which a couple was married rather than their state of residence. It gave the out-of-state marriages of my friends in North Carolina legal meaning, with several hundred federal rights being extended to them for the first time. When I flew back to NC to commemorate the two- year anniversary of Amendment One on 8 May 2014, I noticed how many couples I knew were having spring weddings in nearby states. And as part of the courageous and beautiful WE DO campaign to raise awareness about their desire to marry and injustice of laws that deny this freedom, many North Carolina couples including Clifton and Dennis (and couples throughout the South) applied for marriage licenses in their home counties with the Campaign for Southern Equality. I was able to be there that day in my home town of Raleigh, NC to witness this.
6) And finally, public support in North Carolina is on the rise, at it is across the country. North Carolina’s public support for marriage equality rose from 34% in 2012 to 40% as of May 2014 according to Public Policy Polling. This figure lags behind the national average (now 54% according to a 2014 Pew Research Center poll) – but the trend is clear.
These are some of the events that have chipped away the legal credibility and morality of what was only two years ago an amendment which passed overwhelmingly. I am grateful that the 4th Circuit Bostic decision is the latest and most direct hit to Amendment One. The rising tide of justice across the United States and in our neighboring state of Virginia all help lift the gloomy cloud of Amendment One to clear the way to truer, bluer skies in my home state. I know that in a few days, when I leave New York -- which just celebrated its third anniversary of marriage equality last week -- and drive through Virginia back to North Carolina, I will come home with an even greater sense of hope that we LGBT people will be treated as the constitutionally and morally equal citizens that we know we are.
By Tracy Hollister, Program Manager, Marriage Equality USA. Tracy lived in North Carolina for nearly 20 years and worked as a volunteer marriage equality advocate for several years before moving to New York City to help advance marriage equality across the country. Now, the same week as the landmark Bostic decision, Tracy is moving back home to North Carolina to continue her work for MEUSA. To hear how and why she became a full-time advocate, listen to this half hour podcast.
As of July 17, nearly 44 percent of the U.S. population lives in 19 states and the District of Columbia where same-sex couples legally may marry. One year ago—even after the 2012 election in which three states affirmed marriage equality at the ballot and after Minnesota’s legislature followed suit a few months later—just 18 percent, or less than one-fifth, of the U.S. population lived in marriage equality states. Even six months ago that number had risen to just 33 percent, or one-third of the population. We’ve made extremely rapid progress, and are within striking distance of a majority of the population having access to marriage equality where they live.
In a sense, we’ve already sped well past the halfway mark.
Thanks to the legal principles espoused by the U.S. Supreme Court in Windsor, every decision in every marriage case in state, district, and appellate courts since June 2013 has concluded that state marriage bans are unconstitutional. This includes a decision by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Kitchen v. Herbert, the case challenging Utah’s marriage ban; should this decision ultimately be upheld, it will mean that bans in the other Tenth Circuit states also will fall.
Unfortunately, in 13 of these states and within the Tenth Circuit, decisions striking down marriage bans have been stayed pending appeal. An additional 30 percent of the U.S. population lives in these 13 states. This means a total of 74 percent of the U.S. population, nearly three-quarters, lives in a state or territory where the freedom to marry has been affirmed in principle, if not yet in effect.
With lawsuits under way in every other state where marriage bans still exist, this percentage changes on practically a weekly basis. Just as I was getting ready to send this column to the publisher, in fact, a Florida judge ruled that state’s marriage ban unconstitutional. Assuming this ruling also is stayed pending appeal, this would bring the percentage of the population living in such states to 36 percent, for a total of 80 percent of the population residing in states or territories where marriage equality is active or has been affirmed but temporarily put on hold.
Moreover, now that we have a Circuit Court decision from the Tenth Circuit, with a second from that court and one from the Fourth Circuit expected any day now as well, there are cases knocking on the door of the U.S. Supreme Court. Many of us expect the Supreme Court to agree to hear one of these cases as soon as this fall or winter, which could result in a ruling by next June taking us from 44 percent marriage equality to 100 percent in one fell swoop. In the meantime, you can follow the progress of state marriage equality rulings and population percentages on the Marriage Equality USA national map.
By MEUSA Social Media Manager Thom Watson