After the Prop 8 Victory, What's Next?

On Tuesday, Feb. 7, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling that Proposition 8, the anti-gay measure that stripped gay and lesbian couples in California of the freedom to marry, is unconstitutional. Yesterday, Feb. 8, the Washington legislature passed a marriage bill that will go to the governor's desk for her signature. And today, we look at the work ahead to ensure that all loving and committed couples are able to share in the meaning and protections of marriage.

The Ninth Circuit's constitutional ruling -- powerful, thoughtful, precise -- made three critical points: first, that marriage matters to everyone, including gay and lesbian couples; second, that it is wrong to single out any group of Americans and strip away rights; and third, that California had no legitimate or sufficient reason for taking away the freedom to marry from one set of loving and committed couples.

The majority held: "[W]e emphasize the extraordinary significance of the official designation of 'marriage.' That designation is important because 'marriage' is the name that society gives to the relationship that matters most between two adults." For the nearly 100,000 gay and lesbian couples in California, all of whom are there for one another through the joyous and not-so-joyous moments of life, taking care of one another in tough times (and a particularly tough economy), this reminder that marriage matters could not be more true. After all, as the court wrote, "We are excited to see someone ask, 'Will you marry me?'... Certainly it would not have the same effect to see 'Will you enter into a registered domestic partnership with me?'"

Reviewing the weak and -- as shown at trial -- evidence-free claims made to shore up Prop 8, the Ninth Circuit panel found that "Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples. The Constitution simply does not allow for laws of this sort."

Litigation challenging constitutional violations by politicians or even -- to use America's Founders' phrase "the tyranny of the majority" -- is a historic and legitimate part of the checks and balances that preserve our freedoms and advance our country's march toward liberty and justice for all. But elected officials, like judges, take an oath to uphold the Constitution -- as the Washington House of Representatives did yesterday when it passed a freedom to marry bill that will make Washington the seventh state to end the restriction on marriage for gay and lesbian couples and, counting the District of Columbia, the fifth to do so through legislative action. New Jersey's legislature is also moving on a freedom to marry bill, a marriage bill was introduced in Maryland in January, and yesterday Illinois legislators introduced a bill, as well. And in Maine, families and advocates blocked by a hostile governor and legislature have filed over 105,000 signatures, putting the question of ending the denial of the freedom to marry on the November ballot.

Building a critical mass of states is one of the three tracks of Freedom to Marry's "Roadmap to Victory" national strategy -- the strategy that has brought our country and cause so far, so fast. Last year, with our historic triumph in New York, we more than doubled the number of Americans living in a state where same-sex couples share in the freedom to marry; once the work in California and Washington is complete, we will have doubled that number again -- to more than 25 percent of the American people. On the other two tracks of the Roadmap, we are cultivating federal support and growing the national majority for marriage. In order to keep winning court cases as well as legislative and electoral battles, Freedom to Marry knows that we must make the same strong case for marriage in the court of public opinion as our advocates are making in courts of law. By following the Roadmap on all three tracks, together we create the climate that emboldens and empowers public officials and judges (and Supreme Court justices) to do the right thing.

In Washington, D.C., Freedom to Marry's federal program is focused on elevating the conversation around marriage, getting decision makers to stop acting like it's 1996 and instead understand how many hearts and minds have changed, and how much progress the freedom to marry has made, as we enter 2012. Last week, in partnership with our colleagues at Human Rights Campaign, Freedom to Marry launched the Respect for Marriage Coalition, bringing together over 50 diverse organizations, including the highly respected Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, to continue growing congressional support to pass our Respect for Marriage Act, which would overturn the discriminatory federal so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

And even as the Ninth Circuit ruling may possibly go up on appeal, likewise, a number of important lawsuits challenging DOMA are working their way through the courts. Any one of these cases, or one that has yet to be filed, could make its way to the Supreme Court. We don't know which or when, or who will be on the Court when a case gets there, but the clock is ticking, adding urgency to our need to get more wins on the board, as called for in the Roadmap.

With so much at stake, each of us can and must play a role in ending marriage discrimination -- and our moment is now. Find out what you can do in your state by clicking here, and check if your members of Congress are cosponsors of the Respect for Marriage Act here; then take action by emailing your lawmakers. And if your mayor is not yet one of the more than 130 Mayors for the Freedom to Marry, please sign or start a petition here.

In explaining why marriage matters, and why separate or lesser legal recognition is no substitute for the freedom to marry, the Ninth Circuit wrote, "We do not celebrate when two people merge their bank accounts; we celebrate when a couple marries." Together we are winning the freedom to marry nationwide, and, if we redouble and refuel our movement on all three tracks of the Roadmap to Victory, together we will have a lot of celebrating to do.

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