Five Signs We've Reached the Marriage Equality Tipping Point

With the Supreme Court's latest move, the writing is on the wall

Jim Derrick and Alfie Travassos get married by Rev. Justin Lopez at the Salt Lake County Government Complex in Salt Lake City, Utah, October 6th, 2014. Credit: Jim Urqhart/Reuters/Corbis

It was the non-decision heard 'round the world: In early October, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear appellate court cases from Utah, Indiana, Oklahoma, Virginia, Wisconsin and Indiana, all of which had previously ruled in favor of same-sex marriage rights. The decision was soon followed with marriage bans struck down in Colorado, Nevada, Alaska and Idaho, although Idaho was granted a temporary stay on same-sex marriages in the state. Wyoming, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Arizona have also joined the wave.

For those keeping count, this means that 32 states (and Washington D.C.) grant federal marriage benefits to gay couples, more than doubling the count as of this time last year. Following the Court's repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act last June, this moment marks a historic tipping point for the United States on same-sex marriage. Here are five signs the tipping point has arrived:

1) More states are expected to follow suit.

As Slate's Mark Joseph Stern explains, the recent's rulings will likely affect marriage debates in five more states, those that fall under the 4th, 7th, and 10th circuit courts, where SCOTUS has just made same-sex marriage officially the law of the land. These include South Carolina and Kansas, where Stern argues that "lower court judges are...now legally obliged to strike down their states' gay marriage bans."

Colorado, a member of the 10th Circuit, has already done so, and Camilla Taylor, the marriage project director for Lambda Legal, expects others to follow suit. "For the Supreme Court to decide not to hear any of the pending cases before it, this shows that Supreme Court is not going to stop progress," says Taylor. "It's an encouragement to future courts to do the right thing, while making it more difficult for future courts to rule against us."

2) When it comes to defining marriage, the majority rules.

Although a recent Pew survey found that support for marriage equality may be "leveling off" at an average of 52 percent, an ABC News/Washington Post poll from March found a robust 59 percent. In addition to poll numbers, the recent measures ensure that a majority of U.S. citizens now live in a state where marriage rights are extended to all, as well as having a majority of states on board.

Anthony Martinez, executive director of the Civil Rights Agenda, notes that blue states aren't the only ones getting on board. Martinez cites the wide acceptance of marriage equality amongst Republicans under 40, where a 70 percent majority are in favor of same-sex marriage. "We've shown that marriage is a conservative value," Martinez says. "Conservatives have always championed marriage rights and this is an extension of that principle."

3) The Republican opposition has all but died.

Martinez isn't the only person who has noted the lack of backlash this time around. Lucas Grindley, the editorial director for HERE Media, poses a question: "I don't know if I missed them, but where are all the protesters outside the Supreme Court?"

Grindley believes that the biggest signifier of change on the issue is when conservatives change the way they talk about marriage equality. Likely presidential hopeful Rand Paul recently blew off the issue on a campus tour. "[Paul] was asked if he would consider changing his view," said Grindley. "He made a strange face and held up his hand to say, 'I don't know.' You have to see the face he made. He cannot figure out what to say."

AfterEllen.com editor-in-chief Trish Bendix notes the same confusion around last year's Windsor decision, which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. "One of the first things that struck me was the fact that the four judges with the dissenting vote didn't even want to address it," says Bendix. According to Bendix, the likelihood is those judges who aren't in favor of the issue, such as Justice Samuel Alito, don't want to look bad in the eyes of history. Said Bendix, "If I were on the other side, I would feel like that was such a big hit." 

4) Equality has spread all across the country, even where it was least expected.

Marc Solomon, the national campaign director for Freedom to Marry and author of the book, Winning Marriage, argues that the biggest victory may be extending marriage rights to those states where the issue was once considered "impossible." "A number of states are more conservative places, and it's exceptionally moving to see same-sex couples living in Oklahoma," he says. "They didn't leave. They stayed or they moved there. Now it's their turn to be treated as equals by the state."

As Camilla Taylor argues, "There were a few years in there where it seemed as if Iowa would sit alone in the middle of the country, shining this light of hope and expectation, but in the last two years, there's been an extraordinary shift." For Trish Bendix, that shift couldn't come at a more appropriate time for states like Oklahoma or Colorado, a northern state with a history of conservative leanings. Says Bendix, "It's not lost on me that 16 years ago Matthew Shepard died in Colorado. Today he would be able to get married there."

5) Marriage victories have become a part of everyday life for LGBT people.

For Keith Ecker, a writer and performer living in Chicago, marriage equality has become something of an "inevitability." "The courts know that," Ecker says. "The writing has been on the wall for some time, and we've reached this point of no return. So many same-sex couples have been given the right to marry, we can't turn back the clock on that."

For Kelly Kessler, a professor at DePaul University, the benefits of marriage extends not only to her wife but also their two twin children. On the day of DOMA's repeal, Kessler remembered that one of her babies changed the channel during the news broadcast announcing the decision. "It was just us and our family watching television," she says. "This moment of validation in the middle of which that it became clearer to us that we are just like every other family who is trying to keep their one-year-old away from the remote."

This is an issue that's also personal to Ecker, who just married his partner this month.  Ecker believes that the real change will be when people don't view families like his and Kessler's as different from anyone else's. "It's all the same," Ecker says. "It's to the benefit of everyone to view these things as not different at all from one another. Love is love. It sends a message that this is the beginning of the end of marriage inequality."