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Over 33% of Population Lives in a State Where Gay Marriage is Legal

by James Spurgeon, published
Last week, both Illinois and Hawaii passed same-sex marriage making them the 15th and 16th states to do so. Overall, 2013 has been quite a year for the LGBT community. These last two states just seem to put the icing on the proverbial cake.

It all comes on the heals of the 2012 election where voters in three states (Maine, Maryland, and Washington) approved same-sex marriage and rejected a ban on it in the state of Minnesota.

So, what has transpired during the year?

Rhode Island, Delaware, Minnesota, and New Jersey all legalized same-sex marriage. The first three were passed by the state legislatures while New Jersey was done through the New Jersey Superior Court (Garden State Equality v. Dow).

With 14-states and DC (this excludes Illinois and Hawaii), the total population living in the various states that have same-sex marriage is roughly 104-million (33% of the population). This number will increase with the two newest states being added into the mix.

In Colorado, civil unions were legalized in May. And starting in late August, several counties in New Mexico began issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

Currently, New Mexico has no statutes against gay marriage or in favor of them. There is currently a court case seeking clarification as to whether banning/denying same-sex marriage in the state would violate the state's constitution. The counties in New Mexico that began issuing the licenses did so after various court rulings.

Then there is California. In 2008, the legislature passed same-sex marriage. The law was quickly overturned by voters with Proposition 8 that same year, which was soon followed by a lengthy court battle over the issue.

Lower courts ruled that Prop. 8 was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court (Perry v. Schwarzenegger) ruled that the proponents didn't have ground to bring the suit and threw out the case leaving the ruling by the lower courts. California resumed same-sex marriages as a result.

It wasn't just on the state level where advancements were made. There were federal developments, as well, as another case made its way to the Supreme Court.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional in United States v. Windsor. It made it to where the federal government would recognize same-sex marriages that are performed in states where it is legal.

The federal government then stepped up even more stating that even if a couple lived in a state that did not recognize same-sex marriage, those marriages would be recognized on the federal level so long as they were performed in a state where they are legal. Other parts of DOMA are now being argued in the courts, as well, especially where states do not have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states where it is legal.

So, what should we expect in the coming year?

According to a Quinnipiac poll in September, 56 percent of adults (57% of registered voters) approve of same-sex marriage while 36 percent disapprove. Support for gay marriage has remained roughly constant through the year while those opposed have dropped slightly.

Even with these numbers, the push for equality may appear to slow down a bit, especially after the speed of progress during the last two years.

Why is this? So far, the movement has been getting same-sex marriage approved in various states that had no constitutional bans (the exception being Maine which overturned its ban in 2012).

So, either courts are going to have to throw out the state bans and rule them unconstitutional or voters are going to have to overturn them in an election.

As stated earlier, New Mexico has neither a ban in place or any laws supporting same-sex marriage. Other states to watch include Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and even Virginia and Arizona.

In each of those states, recent polls show a majority of the population supports same-sex marriage. Most of these states, however, have constitutional bans on same-sex marriage.

Pennsylvania is the only state listed above that does not have a constitutional ban. It only has a state statute which can be dealt with by the legislature.

In Oregon, there is already a movement underway to overturn its constitutional ban. It will be interesting to see if they push for it in the 2014 midterms or wait for the 2016 presidential election.

According to Pew Research, 72 percent of those asked (proponents and opponents) say that same-sex marriage is inevitable. This is up from 59 percent in 2004.

Even the southern state of South Carolina is starting to show some movement on this issue. In a Winthrop University Poll, 52 percent state that they do not approve of same-sex marriage. This may not seem very surprising, but the state did approve a constitutional ban in 2006 with 78 percent of the vote.

Mitt Romney won the South Carolina in 2012 with 55 percent of the vote. It has a Republican governor, two Republican senators, a Republican-controlled legislature, and 6 out of 7 of its U.S. Representatives are Republican. The state is solidly red, but yet attitudes are changing to a slight degree.

The possible cause of this is that, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, a majority of Republicans aged 18-49 approve of same-sex marriage. Even U.S. Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) have stated they support same-sex marriage, and several more Republican Senators just voted in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

The progress of gay rights in 2013 has been remarkable. There is still plenty of work to be done though. The next couple of election years (2014-2016) should still see great progress being made.

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