The Nation’s — and Arizona’s — Road to Marriage Equality

Protesters advocate for marriage equality as the Supreme Court hears Hollingsworth v. Perry. Image: Victoria Pickering

Protesters advocate for marriage equality as the Supreme Court hears Hollingsworth v. Perry. Image: Victoria Pickering

June is often known as a big month for weddings. Last June, that was more true than ever as a political battle over the right to marry was in front of the Supreme Court.

In the spring and early summer of 2013 and the days and weeks leading up to the decision in Hollingsworth v. Perry, it was clear that no matter what that case decided about same-sex marriage, the public had decided in favor of marriage equality. Hollingsworth v. Perry challenged Proposition 8, a California same-sex marriage ban that was passed by voter initiative in 2008. The plaintiffs in the case charged that Proposition 8 violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause.

Arizona was the first state to defeat a ballot initiative against marriage equality, but it still doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage today.

Interest built as the case made its way through the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court. The attorneys challenging the ban were themselves a sign of the change taking place in the United States, as former rivals in the Bush v. Gore trial — the Supreme Court trial over the disputed 2000 presidential election — joined forces to challenge Proposition 8. David Boies, a Democrat who had represented Al Gore, joined Theodore Olson, a Republican who had represented George W. Bush.

Before agreeing to serve as counsel for the plaintiffs, Olson had been approached by backers of Proposition 8 to serve as their counsel. Olson declined on the grounds that the law was contrary to both his legal and personal views. However, a high-profile Republican had made the case that the tide was turning, and polling before the Hollingsworth decision provided proof in numbers. Support for marriage equality was growing across all major demographic sectors, and 14 percent of those polled by the Pew Research Center had switched from opposing to supporting marriage equality. A CBS News poll showed that a 53-percent majority now supported same-sex marriage. Alex Lundry, a data scientist who had worked on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, called it “the most significant, fastest shift in public opinion that we’ve seen in modern American politics.” At the same time, celebrities ranging from hip-hop artist Jay-Z to Baltimore Raven Brendon Ayanbadejo joined the fray as allies.

Supreme CourtOn June 26, 2013, a year ago today, the Supreme Court gave its decision in Hollingsworth. Marriage equality won. The decision, though, had limitations. It overturned the ban in California but did not rule on the issue of same-sex marriage nationally. Though galvanizing, the decision still left supporters of marriage equality in a state-by-state battle. But since the Hollingsworth decision, there have been 20 state-level victories (and no losses) for marriage equality. Today, 19 states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage, and in 12 more states, favorable rulings are stayed while they go through appellate procedures. Victories before and after Hollingsworth mean that nearly 44 percent of Americans now live in a state with legalized same-sex marriage — and that percentage will continue to grow rapidly as court decisions become law.

Although Arizona was the first state to defeat a ballot initiative aimed at preventing same-sex marriage, when it voted down Proposition 107 in 2006, it’s still not among the states that recognize same-sex marriage today. However, the movement to bring marriage equality to the Grand Canyon State has been building. Last year, the ACLU of Arizona, the Human Rights Campaign, and two additional organizations launched a campaign called Why Marriage Matters Arizona “to remove discrimination from Arizona’s Constitution and win the freedom to marry for all couples in the state.” Twenty more organizations have since joined the coalition, and last month the coalition convened an interfaith group of Arizona clergy to speak in support of marriage equality.

A similar organization, the Coalition for Navajo Equality, has also formed in the Navajo Nation, which straddles parts of Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. Although legalized same-sex marriage passed in New Mexico in December of last year, the Navajo Nation’s sovereignty means that for Navajos in New Mexico, the fight for marriage equality is not over. Still, the differential treatment that Navajos in same-sex marriages could face — if they get married in New Mexico outside of tribal land — could push the question into a greater prominence in the Navajo Nation. As Alray Nelson, the coalition’s founder and organizer wrote in the Albuquerque Journal News, “Gay and lesbian couples share the same economic, health care and child-raising experiences as our parents.” Recognizing those roles to “promote families rather than divide them,” Alray continues, would strengthen the Navajo Nation.

One of the expert witnesses who testified on behalf of the plaintiffs in the legal fight against Proposition 8, Lee Badgett, underscored the financial toll of banning same-sex marriage. Same-sex couples who can’t marry are denied the tax and employment benefits of marriage, amounting to “thousands of dollars [annually] that will not be available to spend on children or to save for their college education.” Other expert witnesses testified on the effects discrimination has on the physical and mental health of its victims, including chronically high levels of stress.

That kind of toll on individuals is a toll on society as well, affecting public health and the economy. Marriage equality will not remedy all of the barriers to the rights and dignity of LGBTQ people, but it’s a start, and one that’s overdue in Arizona. At the close of last month, President Obama issued a proclamation that declared June to be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. Recalling the Supreme Court victory for same-sex marriage last June, Obama remarked, “Despite this progress, LGBT workers in too many States can be fired just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity; I continue to call on the Congress to correct this injustice by passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. And in the years ahead, we will remain dedicated to addressing health disparities within the LGBT community by implementing the Affordable Care Act and the National HIV/AIDS Strategy.”