Last July I wrote an item — prematurely, as it turned out — noting that one in five Americans lived in a state where same-sex marriage was legal to a greater or lesser extent. I made that observation not long after the California Supreme Court recognized a right to same-sex marriage, overturned in a voter referendum last November.
With New Hampshire becoming the fifth New England state to embrace gay marriage, it’s time to do the math again. California was an enormous setback, so the numbers don’t look as good as they did a year ago. Bit by bit, though, marriage equality is moving forward.
First, let’s take the six states where same-sex marriage is explicitly recognized or soon will be — Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and Iowa. With the exception of Massachusetts, all are low-population states, adding up to about 14.8 million people, according to the most recent U.S. Census estimates from July 2008. They account for a shade less than 4.9 percent of the total U.S. population, which is about 304 million.
But now let’s consider New York. Already, thanks to an order last year by Gov. David Paterson, same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions are recognized. With nearly 19.5 million people, New York has a higher population than the other six states combined. Put them all together, and you’ve got about 22.8 million people — 9.6 percent of the total population, close to the proverbial one in 10.
Moreover, the state seems to be moving toward outright legal recognition for same-sex marriage. The process has gotten bogged down, and a New York Times editorial today urges the state senate to get moving. Overall, though, there’s reason to be optimistic.
There’s no question that the constitutional amendment California voters approved last fall to ban same-sex marriage was an enormous blow. The recent decision by the state’s supreme court not to overturn the amendment was unsurprising.
At some point, though, it seems inevitable that liberal, blue California will re-enshrine same-sex marriage. And with more than 36.7 million people, it remains the big prize. Add them to the other six states plus New York, and you’ve got 58.9 million people, or 21.7 percent of the U.S. population.
Interestingly, marriage-equality advocates seem dubious, to say the least, about a bid by celebrity lawyers David Boise and Theodore Olson to take gay marriage to the U.S. Supreme Court. The votes almost certainly aren’t there now, and with liberal justices more likely to retire than conservative ones over the next few years, it could be a long time before the court’s make-up changes in a fundamental way.
More immediately, would anyone care to predict how Justice David Souter, who’s retiring, would vote on same-sex marriage, and how his likely replacement, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, would vote?
The good news is that the country is gradually moving toward allowing same-sex couples to marry. At some point, federal intervention will be needed because, as with mixed-race marriages, there are some states that will never recognize fundamental human rights.
For the time being, though, the state-by-state process is helping to normalize an idea that was alien to many Americans just a few years ago.