Earlier this month, eight couples, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a lawsuit against the state of Missouri. They claim the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage is discriminatory, and they’re asking for their marriages from other states to be considered valid in Missouri.
The Kansas state Senate has killed a bill just recently passed by its House. The bill would have given anyone in the state the right to deny any sort of service to same-sex couples if it goes against their religious beliefs to do so.
Both of these instances have happened in retaliation to the quickly moving gay rights movement. After the Supreme Court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional in Windsor v. United States last June, same-sex marriage bans across the nation have been slowly lifted in one state after the other. This time last year, only nine states allowed same-sex marriages, and now that number has almost doubled.
What Kansas, Missouri and other states have shown is that if equality is going to be won in all 50 states, it will have to go through the courts to do so.
Our legislatures are disproportionately representative. Even in 2014, the majority of our elected officials are older, upper middle-class white men with varying religious affiliations. To put that into perspective, the average age of a U.S. senator is 62 years old. Only 20 of them are women, and only seven are racial minorities. When Cory Booker, former mayor of Newark, N.J., was recently elected to the United States Senate, he became only the ninth black U.S. senator in history. During the last presidential election, Wisconsin elected Tammy Baldwin, the first, and currently only, openly gay senator.
In a country that proudly boasts its melting pot, our elected officials meant to represent it fall short.
It’s this lack of diversity that has a disengaged generation making social justice decisions for constituents who may not necessarily agree. And in response to the rapid pace of this civil rights movement, many of these elected officials have made it so it will take years to undo the same-sex marriage bans they’ve written into law, even if they started today.
But with no states remaining without a law either in support marriage equality or against it, it will take more than a radical change from our legislators for progress to occur.
In the past two months, four separate federal judges have ruled same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional in some of the most conservative parts of our country. In Utah, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Virginia, the landscape of the gay rights movement has drastically changed. If the people who live in these states had waited for their legislators, they wouldn’t have seen marriage equality for years.
But before a judge in every state has the chance to do so, marriage equality may land back in the Supreme Court. Utah and Oklahoma are both waiting for their cases to be heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court could have the opportunity to make a decision on those cases as early as 2015. If the justices vote similarly to how they did this past summer, it could be the Supreme Court that brings marriage equality to all 50 states.
It took the courts in Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade and even Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 Supreme Court decision that found anti-sodomy laws around the country, which made being gay illegal, to be unconstitutional, for our greatest civil rights victories to occur. And as it was in Windsor v. United States, the Supreme Court might once again have the chance to make historic change and beat the public perception that hindered it.