Unlimited Access. Try it Today! Your First 10 Days Always $0.99
News Opinion Editorial

Will Minnesota make a marriage equality trifecta?

Six months after Maryland, Maine and Washington voters endorsed same-sex marriage at the ballot box, two more states have adopted laws allowing gay couples to marry, and a third is poised to join them. On Tuesday, lawmakers in Delaware adopted a same-sex marriage law, and Minnesota's House of Representatives passed a marriage equality measure there today, setting up a final vote in the Senate on Monday. Last week the Rhode Island legislature adopted a similar measure. That three states have moved to legalize gay marriage over the span of less than a month shows how quickly public attitudes toward same-sex unions are changing. Still, more progress may be difficult until more Republicans start to see the issue as one of civil rights, equal protection under the law and individual liberty.

Polls show that nearly 60 percent of Americans now believe gay marriage should be legal, up from less than 40 percent only a decade ago. Among young people, about 8 in 10 think gay couples should be allowed to marry, a trend that clearly favors wider acceptance of such unions in the future. The evolution of public opinion on same-sex marriage is in line with a broader movement toward recognition of gay rights that has manifested itself over the last year in spheres as varied as the Boy Scouts, professional sports teams and the military.

The Supreme Court is currently considering two cases related to same-sex marriage, one that could establish it as a right under the Constitution and another that could overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, which bans federal recognition of same-sex marriages. During oral arguments, the justices signaled varying degrees of discomfort with making a sweeping ruling in either case, but as the political battle over rights for gays tilts toward equality in state after state, such caution appears increasingly out of touch.

Just as the court's finding in the 1954 Brown school segregation case that racially separate schools were inherently unequal eventually became accepted as conventional wisdom, so too will the idea of a second-class version of marriage for gay couples come to seem equally unfair. It's up to the justices to decide which side of history they want to be on.

Barring sweeping action by the court, the progression toward equality may be due for some difficult times. Illinois lawmakers believe they will soon have the votes to support gay marriage, but there may be only a handful of other states left where marriage equality is likely to be approved in the foreseeable future. Virtually all the others are controlled by Republican state legislatures whose members generally have been far less sympathetic to legalizing gay unions than their Democratic counterparts, and many have constitutional provisions against gay marriage that will make progress harder to achieve.

Over the short term, the GOP's ability to block legislation allowing same-sex couples to marry might seem an insurmountable barrier to extending gay rights. But given the demographic trend toward increasing acceptance of gay rights, the Republican Party's opposition to equality is likely to become a liability in national elections. In 2012, the Obama campaign used the issue to energize the Democratic base and produce big wins in purple states like Virginia and Florida where Republicans control the legislature.

To their credit, some Republican lawmakers have begun to speak out in favor of marriage equality. They include some high-profile names such as Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and former vice president Dick Cheney, both of whom softened their positions against same-sex marriage after learning of close relatives who were gay. Republicans provided crucial votes in Maryland's legislature and elsewhere. But those voices are still very much in the minority. Most Republican elected officials and the party's base remain staunchly against gay marriage.

At some point, the GOP is either going to have to recognize that its reflexive opposition to extending marriage rights is counterproductive in terms of winning back the White House and Senate, or see itself reduced to a permanent opposition party whose ambitions to govern are constrained by the views of its most conservative voters. That may be just fine with the lawmakers who succeed in getting elected with their support, but it's bad for the party as a whole and bad for the country as well.

  • Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts
  • Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
    Related Content
    • Religious beliefs can't excuse discrimination
      Religious beliefs can't excuse discrimination

      A recent suggestion that some people should be exempt from serving gays because of their religious beliefs is nonsense. If you are licensed to provide a service or employed by the government to do so, you are required to perform that service without unlawful discrimination. Neither government...

    • Equality in Alabama
      Equality in Alabama

      These are heady days for advocates of marriage equality. The Supreme Court is due to hear arguments this spring in a group of cases that could settle the question of a national Constitutional right to same-sex marriage, and this week, a decision not to enter a stay on the enforcement of a...

    • A speed bump for marriage equality [Editorial]
      A speed bump for marriage equality [Editorial]

      Our view: Decision upholding Louisiana's ban on gay marriage is an outlier but an instructive one as the issue heads to the Supreme Court

    • Jesus didn't condone marriage equality [Letter]
      Jesus didn't condone marriage equality [Letter]

      Madeleine Mysko's recent commentary advised that 645 commissioners of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA will vote later this month whether to accept marriage equality for the LGBTQ community ("Presbyterians to vote on marriage equality," June 6).

    • The triumph of fairness [Editorial]
      The triumph of fairness [Editorial]

      Our view: Failure to put Maryland's transgender rights law on the ballot despite trumped-up fears should be a source of pride

    • Opposing gay rights doesn't make you a hater [Letter]

      According to Tom Schaller's column ("Hate if you must, just don't act on it," March 5), any American who does not subscribe to Mr. Schaller's particular credo on the law and homosexuality is a hater. Such blanket condemnation and name-calling are more appropriate to a bigot than an academic.