When the DOMA and Prop 8 rulings were announced yesterday in favor of gay marriage, I was overjoyed…for about 20 minutes. I wasn’t particularly shocked since I deeply doubted that the Supreme Court would pull a Dred Scott and do something horrible. The tide of history was turning, and perhaps if this ruling had come to the court twenty years ago, it would have been against gay marriage or punted. But the possibility of this terrible outcome weighed far more heavily on the minds of gays and lesbians. Whether the Supreme Court ruled for or against gay marriage, my life would stay the same. Thankfully, the Supreme Court mostly did the right thing and provided a victory to the battle, but not the war.
And that’s why my enthusiasm faded after about 20 minutes. First, the ruling on Prop 8 was limited to California, and it was limited on the grounds of those who opposed it (the Mormon Church instead of the State) rather than the fundamental inequality of the proposition itself. That fundamental inequality was addressed in the DOMA ruling, but DOMA can only apply to places that have passed a bill allowing gay marriage—currently 13 states plus the District of Columbia. There are 37 states left, and they have laws on the books making gay marriage illegal.
My concern is that yesterday’s victory will seem like the conclusion of the fight rather than what it is: a major victory in an ongoing conflict. I think of my gay friends in Georgia, and if they want to get married, they can’t live here. The federal benefits now allowed by the DOMA ruling will not affect them until they can be married. Their fight continues, but it continues in a red state. And every red state, especially in the South, is far from allowing it.
So how does that fight continue? Is it now every state for itself? I don’t know how national coalitions for gay and lesbian rights will proceed, but I’m afraid that there may be a divide and conquer mentality where pro-gay rights groups in deeply red states won’t have the resources to even begin mounting a serious battle against the deeply entrenched forces allied against gay marriage.
It’s important to remember that the fight is far from over, and that a new national strategy is needed because the battle now begins in the individual states. Thankfully, three more states will be on the side of equality by the end of the summer: Delaware, Minnesota, and Rhode Island.
34 to go.
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