This is part two of our three-part interview with Zach Wahl's on the future of marriage equality after victories at the ballot box on Tuesday, November 6. Here we look at the political and judicial impact on the future of marriage equality in the United States. -Ed.
"It doesn't take a PhD to read the trend line."
That is how Zach Wahls reacted to voters approving marriage equality ballot issues in Maine, Maryland and Wisconsin, and defeating an amendment to the Minnesota State Constitution, declaring marriage is only between a man and a woman, on Election Day 2012. A corner has been turned as these four wins are the first in the history of the fight to legalize same-sex marriage. (Marriage equality ballot issues had been defeated 32 times before, dating back to the mid-1990s.) According to Wahls' analysis, the freedom to marry the person of your choice – regardless of gender or sexual orientation will become national law, and the question is no longer "whether". Public opinion, judicial ruling and legislative action will determine "when".
One can not underestimate the impact of support for same-sex marriage by President Obama
or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
, which turned public opinion (After Obama’s announcement, opposition to same-sex marriage hits record low
) (NAACP Battleground Poll
While victory at the ballot box on November 6 is a good sign, the fate of nation-wide marriage equality is not yet assured. When marriage equality will be legally protected throughout all of the United States isn't just a matter of public opinion or votes – judicial ruling will play a role as well.
The United States Supreme Court will discuss whether to hear the federal constitutional challenge to California Proposition 8
(limiting marriage to a man and a woman) at their November 30 conference. Proposition 8 has been found unconstitutional by the Federal District Court
and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
. The Supreme Court upholding the lower court rulings would affirm the fundamental right of all people to marry the person of their choice.
Wahls points out that the Supreme Court is sensitive to public opinion. Although the Court is, as he observes, "not a bunch of young people," and changing (their) beliefs could be hard, he sees precedent in the US Supreme Court 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas
, that provided protection for same-sex couples. Wahls also notes that the Court understands the limits of its power, stating, "The Court doesn't want to make an unenforceable ruling," and that the Supreme Court will have to take into account marriage equality wins at the ballot box.
Still, Zach feels the better route to marriage equality in the United States is through legislation written by people, "doing the right thing." And he is confident that will happen given time and the continued effort to create dialog with opponents of marriage equality on family values and love. Elected officials also respond to hearing from their constituents, so if you feel marriage equality is important don't underestimate the value of contacting your representative!