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What you need to know about the state of marriage equality

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Marriage has always been a rather simple concept: When a man and a woman love each other so much, they get married. But, just as society has progressed socially, our concept of marriage has expanded: When two people love each other so much, they get married.

To some same-sex couples, marriage equality fundamentally symbolizes the freedom to love someone regardless of gender/sexual orientation. On the other hand, many couples do not perceive marriage through a social lens—they do not need society to validate their love—but rather a legal one. Attaining legal protection and marital-based government benefits through a marriage is often a means of achieving economic stability. For example, Edith Windsor did not need marriage equality as a means of explanation that she and her wife loved each other, she needed it because the government would have taxed her to the grave.

Regardless, the freedom to love and legal protection are afforded (and have been for centuries) to heterosexual couples through the ritual of marriage. Despite this longstanding and heterocentric tradition, however, most of America feels that same-sex couples deserve the same.

Within the last year, 9 states legalized same-sex marriage effectively doubling the number of states with marriage equality (19 total). Most recently in fact, Oregon and Pennsylvania declared their marriage equality rulings just one day apart from each other.

In addition, 7 states have stays on marriage equality—this means that a court has ruled the state's prohibition on performing same-sex marriage unconstitutional while staying enforcement of its ruling, pending an appeal of the decision.

Marriage Map

To legalize marriage for same-sex couples, pro-equality activists have quite the variety of paths from which to choose.

First, legislation. As a popular method, legislation has been the medium through which marriage equality succeeded in 8 states. Despite that bills in support of LGBT-equality require a majority vote in both the state's Assembly and Senate, many have succeeded in passing the legislative test.

Because of lacking support, bills failed in multiple states including Wyoming, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois (note: NY, NJ and IL now have marriage equality), but the only other marriage equality bills that failed were due to a governor's veto against the equality measure organized and passed by the state's legislature. This occurred in Vermont when Gov. Jim Douglass vetoed in 2009 (only to be overridden by Vermont's legislature later that year) and in New Jersey when Gov. Chris Christie vetoed in 2012.

Almost obviously, current political perspectives of marriage equality have significantly departed from past perspectives. The reality is that being anti-LGBT in almost any capacity is an act of social perversity —especially for most elected officials.

To continue, marriage equality can be won through judiciary action. In fact, 8 states now have marriage equality and 7 states' same-sex marriage status are stayed because of judicial rulings/decisions. In 2013, the Supreme Court heard Hollingsworth v. Perry which challenged the validity of Proposition 8 against the U.S. Constitution in addition to hearing Windsor v. United States which debated the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Ultimately, Prop 8 was ruled unconstitutional through a federal court's decision and DOMA was ruled unconstitutional by a 5-4 vote from the Supreme Court.

Because of these national rulings, judges across the country have used the precedent set by SCOTUS to declare states' bans against same-sex marriage as unconstitutional. In a fantastic turn of events for LGBT devotees, organizations like the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) have significantly lost support and, like anti-LGBT politicians, represent 'the problem' with America's social climate according to popular opinion.

Additionally, a third outlet that can lead to marriage equality is a public referendum. Sometimes, the majority of the state's population supports marriage equality, while a majority of state legislators do not. In this instance, a referendum might be an effective way to pass something like marriage equality.

This method has been effective at passing marriage equality in Maine, Maryland and Washington, as well as in Washington D.C., but many civil rights advocates repudiate LGBT-related referenda; despite the fact that there might be voter support for marriage equality, many feel that civil rights should be kept off the ballot.

There is an American ideal that the government serves to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority. By allowing the majority to determine minorities' rights, the arc of social justice becomes the majority's plaything, rendering equality inaccessible to minority groups.

So, where is the future of marriage equality headed?

Well, there are three possibilities. The first is that equality will reach each state individually. As it was discussed, this could be through state-based legislation, referenda, or judiciary action. The second possibility is that the right lawsuit makes its way to the Supreme Court and the Court rules that it is unconstitutional to deny an LGBT person the right to marriage. This option would be the quickest and most effective way to marriage equality as every state would be obligated to follow SCOTUS's decision.

The third possibility is that marriage equality never comes to all 50 states. It's interesting to think about, really. Considering the pace at which states have begun to fall on the right side of history, the likelihood of more states following suit in the near future seems inevitable. But, is it really only a matter of time until each and every state extends rights and marital benefits to gay couples?

Because so many organizations, corporations, individuals, and many of the world's developed nations are in support of marriage equality it seems rather improbable that the states within the U.S. could continue to resist this social progressivism.

Indisputably, change is a constant force that ceaselessly shapes us as a society. Change makes the tides rise and the leaves turn color; Change brings life into the world and it takes life away. It freed the slaves in our country and gave women the right to vote. And, pretty soon, change will bring marriage equality to all couples.

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