Gay Marriage Advocates Ramp Up Strategies After Supreme Court Announcement

On Friday afternoon, the board members of Equality Delaware gathered for their regular monthly meeting to discuss plans for the upcoming year. Then 16 phones started to vibrate simultaneously on the table.

"Everyone took a breath and looked at everyone else. We knew it was the court," said Lisa Goodman, the director of Equality Delaware, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights organization. "It was electrifying."

Even before the moment the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision to hear a pair of same-sex marriage cases next year, anxiety was running high among gay rights activists who have been fighting for decades to see same-sex marriage legalized nationwide. But in states like Delaware -- which could be one of the next states to legalize same-sex marriage -- advocates said the court's announcement had a galvanizing effect, and that any additional wins for the movement before the court rules in June could potentially influence its decision.

"The question now really needs to be, what can we do collectively to create the strongest possible conditions for the court to rule our way, so that when it does rule our way, which I think it will, the justices will see that there is strong public support for their decisions," said Marc Solomon, the national campaign director for same-sex marriage advocacy nonprofit Freedom To Marry. "The more states we have on the map, the better off we are."

As of November 2012, same-sex marriage is legal in nine states, and recent polls have shown that a majority of Americans for the first time, support the legalization of same-sex marriage. Solomon says that Freedom to Marry wants to win victories in six more states by June -- Delaware, Rhode Island, Illinois, Minnesota, Hawaii and New Jersey -- as well as to continue to convince prominent public figures to voice their support for same-sex marriage.

Other advocates have taken on similar strategies. "I think we all are anxious about losing steam, so there is a great desire to keep the pressure on," said Bob Witeck, an advocate who has worked over the past 20 years as a business and communications consultant for major companies.

Witeck plans to devote his time and resources in the coming months to working with companies to join an amicus brief in support of repealing the Defense of Marriage Act -- one of the two lawsuits the court will be ruling on.

"We know that the outside atmosphere affects the thinking of justices," Witeck said. "We want to give more tangible evidence that the people are moving as quickly or quicker than even the courts are today."

Those on the other side of the fight are less ambivalent about the Supreme Court's announcement. "They know what we know: They are likely to lose," said Brian Brown, the president of the National Organization for Marriage.

Brown said his organization, which is leading the fight nationally to ban same-sex marriage, has seen an increase in donations since the losses during the November election, and hopes that support will continue both nationally and in the six states where marriage will be debated this winter and spring.

"The reality is that we still are now 31 wins and four losses for public votes," Brown continued, referring to the times the public has voted on the question of same-sex marriage. "The other side knows this even though they keep saying that somehow the country has changed."

Win or lose, many advocates said they hope the attention the Supreme Court has focused on gay rights will carry over into other causes, like employment discrimination protection.

"I think that all of us are waiting in some ways on pins and needles to hear what the Supreme Court is going to say because obviously it's the final court of the land and it has a significant impact," said Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, an advocacy group. "At the same time we have to keep pushing for equality."

In some ways, Nipper's biggest concern is what happens next if the court rules in the advocates' favor. "Will that mean that everything's done in the minds of funders and everyone else for that matter? It's a significant job on the part of LGBT advocates to remind folks that we could end up with a situation where somebody comes to work with a picture of their spouse, puts it on their desk, and without even knowing it, they are at risk of being fired."