America is ready for gay and lesbian couples’ freedom to marry. Recently, the Department of Justice issued a memo making clear that the federal government will respect gay married couples for federal programs and purposes, even in states that discriminate against such marriages. Despite the fact that a majority of Americans nationwide favor the freedom to marry, a shrinking cohort of lawmakers on Capitol Hill continue to stand against it. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, introduced legislation late last year that would give a green light to codifying and legalizing special discrimination against legally married gay couples.
Some 1,300 same-sex couples married in Senator Lee’s home state after a federal judge ruled Utah’s ban unconstitutional. High-profile marriage cases are moving through the courts all over the country — 45 so far, in 24 states, including in Louisiana, Utah, Texas, Oklahoma and Ohio, showing that the momentum for same-sex marriage has increased even in more conservative parts of the country. Indeed, a January poll conducted by Freedom to Marry found that even in states where same-sex couples are denied marriage licenses, there is now majority (51 percent) support for the freedom to marry.
With 40 percent of Americans living in a freedom to marry state, a growing number of members of Congress have embraced the cause, recognizing both the integrity of same-sex couples’ relationships, and the journey toward understanding this cause that the American people have been taking. Currently, all but three Democratic senators have spoken in support, as have three GOP senators, including Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who movingly described his journey last year after learning that his son is gay. “I have come to believe that if two people are prepared to make a lifetime commitment to love and care for each other in good times and in bad, the government shouldn’t deny them the opportunity to get married,” Portman said.
The historically unprecedented acceleration in public support and the critical mass of states that have ended their discriminatory laws are the result of a journey many people have made, in which they’ve come to understand why marriage matters to gay and non-gay people alike: love, commitment and family. As non-gay Americans get to know their gay neighbors, friends and family, they can see that we want to marry in order to make a commitment, follow our dreams and protect our loved ones, like everyone else.
The momentum for the freedom to marry and the dynamic litigation landscape could have us back before the Supreme Court as early as 2015. America is ready — and now is the time for even more members of Congress to stand up for families, freedom, and fairness, and to stand on the right side of history as our country moves forward on its journey to the freedom to marry and a more perfect union for all.
Evan Wolfson is the founder and president of Freedom to Marry.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.