The Steady Progress of Marriage Equality

By Edward Carlson, Policy Analyst, Civil Rights Policy Project, NCLR

Marriage Equality

Today, the New Mexico Supreme Court handed down a ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in the “Land of Enchantment. It is now the 17th state, plus Washington, DC., to have done so. Last month, Hawaii became the 15th state to allow same-sex marriage.  In a fitting tribute to a state that began the controversy nearly decades ago, Hawaii came full circle when its governor signed its same-sex marriage bill into law.  Not to be outdone, more than 4,000 miles away, the Illinois legislature passed its own a same-sex marriage bill and was signed by the governor, making it number 16.  In short, it has been a magnanimous two months for same-sex couples, some of whom have waited years to have their love for each other recognized by the state.

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This was also, without a doubt, a victory for the Hispanic community.  Both Hawaii and Illinois are states with growing Hispanic populations, and New Mexico’s Latino community is also a vibrant presence in the state.  In Hawaii, while “the state’s overall population has increased by just 12 percent since 2010, the Latino population has surged by 38 percent.”  In Illinois, the growth is even more pronounced.  The Hispanic community makes up 16 percent of the total population in the state, and between 2000 and 2010 there was 32 percent growth.

But this is really a victory for everyone.  When rights are denied or people are treated differently based on immutable qualities, everyone is impacted.  Illinois, for example, already had civil marriage for same-sex couples, which gave them all the rights and responsibilities of marriage, but the law did not recognize them as married before the state.  Besides the confusion that this can cause in state agencies when same-sex marriage partners apply for benefits, there is something inherently wrong with having separate but equal institutions to unite people.  There is also something grossly unfair about the federal and state governments not recognizing people who want to dedicate their lives to each other. 

Looking forward, the marriage equality fight gets more difficult.  There are 33 states that currently have constitutional bans against same-sex marriage.  Yet in Oregon, activists are already working to repeal their constitutional ban and begin a legislative process to grant same-sex couples the right to marry.

This could all be made moot by the Supreme Court, which, if it hears the right case, could find any state’s barring of same-sex marriage illegal, but just last year it chose not to hear a case with the potential to do that on procedural grounds.  Nonetheless, for those who believe in marriage equality, the recent victories have been a testament to love winning out.  Some couples have waited not years but decades to get married, and in a few months that will be possible.  They will be recognized as they should:  as loving individuals united in marriage.  That is something to truly celebrate.

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