US gay marriage: All eyes on June

2013-03-04 14:25

Chicago - February was a rollicking month for gay marriage in the USA, and March could conceivably go the same way. By June we should know whether gay marriage has survived the US Supreme Court, which will set marriage equality in stone.
Why was February such a good month for gay marriage proponents? In an nutshell, the majority of support for gay marriage has naturally come from liberals, who fit pretty easily within the Democratic Party (although this is not firmly accurate; liberal Republicans are locatable, as are conservative Democrats), which has meant Democrats have been faster to come to the table in support of same-sex marriage. Part of the Republican voting coalition is conservative and/or religious, and forms the majority of the opposition to gay marriage.
However, early last week 80-odd prominent Republicans signed an amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief in support of striking down Proposition 8, and as the week went on more Republicans added their names. And when I say prominent, I mean it: Theodore Olsen was the solicitor-general under George W Bush (if you’ve heard his name before it’s likely from the Supreme Court case that he tried on behalf of Bush, which decided the 2000 election after the Florida fracas); both Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Richard Hanna are serving in the House of Representatives; Jon Huntsman ran for the Republican presidential nomination for the last election, served as US ambassador to China and was governor of the conservative state of Utah; Meg Whitman is the president and CEO of Hewlett Packard and ran for California governor in 2010. Added to these names is a host of former governors and members of Congress, including Ken Mehlman, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee (who is gay).
This support is unlikely to sway the judges much, but is highly symbolic, and joins in with national polling: Public support for gay marriage is on the increase, and quickly. As recently as December 2011, a Gallup poll saw a 48%-48% split between supporters and opponents, but in December 2012 the same poll measured 53%-46% in support.

Marriage privileges for all

March has the potential to be as significant a month.
On the 26th of March the US Supreme Court will hear arguments over the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8, a referendum that banned gay marriage in the state. On the 27th it will hear arguments over the Defence of Marriage Act, which forbids the federal government to recognise gay marriages, even when they were conducted in states and countries where they are legal.
The former case concerning Proposition 8 is a major deal, as it will set the precedent for the legitimacy of gay marriage within the USA. That is, if the court rules in favour of gay marriage, it will virtually legalise it throughout the country. If it rules that Proposition 8 may stand, the same applies. The Defence of Marriage Act is a slightly different beast in that it will allow the privileges marriage brings to straight couples to gay couples: Filing tax returns together, certain changes in taxation, spousal rights, and so on.
And progress continues in the states: Illinois is very close to passing gay marriage, with a bill having passed the upper chamber, and through committee in the lower chamber, while Colorado and Minnesota are also taking up the issue. Rhode Island's and Hawaii's governors support gay marriage, while there are significant voices in Delaware and New Jersey pushing for it to be made legal.
But by far the most significant rulings will be made at the Supreme Court, which holds the futures of many couples in its hands, and is expected to rule in what will likely be the next significant month for gay marriage: June.