Progress on gay marriage

Ryan Day

It has been a momentous week for gay rights activists as not one, but two states have legalized gay marriage. In Iowa, the state Supreme Court unanimously decided that a ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional. In Vermont, state legislators passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, which the governor vetoed, but legislators then overrode that veto. This is all the more worth noting since it required a two-thirds majority vote to override Gov. Jim Douglas’s veto – the state House vote ended up being 100 to 49. This marks Vermont as the first state to legalize same-sex marriage through legislation, and a total of four states have now legalized same-sex marriage.
Iowa is a large leap forward in gay civil rights, but Vermont may be the death knell for anti-gay marriage activists. There are two big reasons for this, and both are in regard to Vermont changing this rule through legislative rather than judicial means. The first is that this decision deflates the anti-gay marriage activists’ argument that activist judges are calling the shots in regard to gay marriage. Vermont proves that this is not so by being the first state to pass legislation on gay marriage, which means that elected representatives made the decision to legalize same-sex marriage. This means that, on some level, their constituents also wanted this.
The second, and most important point, comes from blogger Matthew Yglesias, who writes, “pro-equality legal decisions on this front tend to drive the pace of change forward.” Essentially, same-sex marriage is an issue that politicians want to ignore because it is so polarizing. It causes major rifts to form in their constituencies. But as soon as the issue is brought out into the open, they cannot ignore it anymore. Vermont’s decision may force oliticians across the country to stop ignoring the same-sex marriage issue and give it a healthy, proper debate. This is exemplified by New Jersey and Rhode Island, two states that are considering same-sex marriage legislation.
I don’t want to get ahead of myself here and predict a torrent of new gay marriage legalizations cropping up around the country because this is not likely to happen, unfortunately. In some states, like Wisconsin, where same-sex marriage bans have been written into the constitution, the battle may be more difficult. But I will say that with these two state decisions happening within a week of one another, the tide seems to be turning. The next logical step would be to win in the voting booth, and this doesn’t seem to be far off, as California’s Prop 8 only passed by a small majority. Recent polls show an increase in Americans that support gay marriage; the number has moved from 22 percent in 2004 to 30 percent today. Judges and legislators have begun to show an openness to same-sex marriage that was previously unseen, and now it is time for the people to take the same steps.