Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Online Extra: Wedding Bell Blues: After victories in 4 states, U.S. Supreme Court next stop


NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell praised last week's marriage equality victories in four states. (Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland)
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As they cheer votes favoring same-sex marriage in Maine, Maryland, and Washington state – and the defeat of a constitutional amendment in Minnesota – marriage equality activists aren't in total agreement about how to proceed, but all appear to feel that plenty of work remains.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to announce this month whether it will take up the Proposition 8 case. After a federal appeals court upheld a district court judge's ruling that California's same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional, opponents of marriage equality appealed to the high court.

The court is also to decide on which, if any, of several lawsuits against the federal Defense of Marriage Act it will review. That law prohibits federal recognition of same-sex unions.

"I think the next thing we have to wait for is to see what the Supreme Court does with the Prop 8 case and the DOMA cases," said Kate Kendell, executive director of the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights.

"My hope has always been they would simply refuse to review the 9th Circuit ruling," which would allow that decision to stand, "and couples could begin marrying in California right away," she said. Kendell was referring to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A panel of judges from that court allowed U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker's pro-LGBT ruling in the Hollingsworth v. Perry case to stand.

Kendell also suggested marriage advocates need to be ready for more fights in the Golden State, though.

"If [the justices] take the Prop 8 case, I do think we need to wait to see what they do with it, but if for some reason they fix themselves entirely on the wrong side of history and humanity" and uphold the same-sex marriage ban, "I think we go back to the ballot, and I think there's not another option," she said.

Advocates could be confident of victory, especially if they employ the strategies of the four state campaigns that recently won on the issue, Kendell said. She pointed to messaging that those campaigns used related to helping people "unlearn" homophobia.

Kendell, who served on the executive committee for the unsuccessful No on Prop 8 campaign in 2008, said she has "no idea" who would lead another anti-Prop 8 campaign in California.

"I assume that we would pull in leadership both from the community and people who know campaigns," and possibly grab staffers from the recent successful efforts.

"We definitely have to make sure there is broad community engagement," Kendell said. She said NCLR wouldn't be involved in the formal structure of the campaign but would help to engage people at the grassroots level "no mater where they live in the state."

Four years ago, the No on Prop 8 campaign was widely criticized for not doing enough to include people from the Central Valley and other areas, among other complaints.

Other advocates appeared to have more general views.

"We're going to take the extraordinary momentum we've built and immediately turn it into a next wave of wins in 2013, including wining more states and growing the majority for marriage that creates a climate for a good ruling from the Supreme Court," said Evan Wolfson, president of the national group Freedom to Marry.

Asked which state his group would make a move in first, he said, "I don't want to get into that level of guessing because the fact is we have several states in which we're going to be working. We're going to hope to deliver more wins over the next several months."

Freedom to Marry provided money and staff to help the four states win their campaigns, Wolfson said.

As for whether his organization would get involved with a Prop 8 fight in California, Wolfson said, "There are too many 'ifs' involved there." However, he added, "Freedom to Marry is absolutely committed to winning nationwide as quickly as possible," and "California is obviously an extremely important state" in moving the rest of the country forward.

Marriage Equality U.S.A. Executive Director Brian Silva also talked about focusing on winning marriage equality at the federal level and the possibility of the Supreme Court ruling on DOMA.

When it comes to next steps, Silva said MEUSA would "look at the landscape and see what states might be open to passing marriage equality legislation, and I think we're going to also hold out hope the Supreme Court will find for fairness and equality when reviewing the marriage equality cases that are before it."

He's opposed to going back to the ballot in California, though.

"The rights of LGBT Americans should never be put to the popular vote of a majority," Silva said. However, he said his organization "would definitely be involved" in the state if it comes to that.

Steven Goldstein, chair of New Jersey's Garden State Equality, said in a recent statement that his group also opposes putting marriage equality measures on the ballot.

"The majority should never vote on the civil rights of a minority, period," Goldstein said.

The New Jersey Legislature passed a marriage equality bill earlier this year, but Republican Governor Chris Christie vetoed it. Goldstein said his group has been questioned about putting same-sex marriage before voters.

He said while the four states' victories, the election of Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) as the first out LGBT member of the U.S. Senate, and other wins are cause for celebration, it wouldn't make sense to try to get a referendum before New Jersey voters.

"Unlike other states that have seen referenda on marriage equality over the years, New Jersey does not have an initiative-and-referendum mechanism," he said. "It's like speculating on whether Bruce Springsteen would perform at a Republican convention in a duet with Clint Eastwood."

Another concern is money.

"A referendum is also a contest of which side can raise more millions," Goldstein said.

Whatever happens, Kendell said people should savor the victories.

Not only did marriage equality win in four states, Kendell also noted the re-election of President Barack Obama. She encourages people to "sit back and take a deep breath and understand what a privilege it is to be alive" during recent events.

"This will be marked as the moment when we had a huge, completely unexpected, and cataclysmic shift in the place of LGBT people in this culture," Kendell said.


Marriages could boost economies, institute says

Paying for campaigns isn't the only way money is related to same-sex marriage. The Williams Institute, a nationally respected public policy research organization at the UCLA School of Law, recently released estimates that the wins in Maine, Maryland, and Washington would generate over $166 million in wedding spending in the first three years. 

"This additional spending will be good for business, boost state and local tax revenues, and create new jobs," said Lee Badgett, Williams Institute research director, said in a statement Monday, November 12 announcing the data.

Same-sex marriages will begin December 8 in Washington State and in January in Maine and Maryland.

Officials in Baltimore are hoping to get some of those millions in their city.

The tourism agency Visit Baltimore has created, which is designed to provide couples with everything they need to know about getting married there.

"We encourage the LGBT community to visit Baltimore to celebrate their commitments to one another," Visit Baltimore CEO Tom Noonan said in a statement. "As a city, we have long been proud to support the rights and equality of our visitors, and the legalization of same-sex marriage is another important step forward."

In Washington state, the Edgewater Hotel is introducing Plunge with Pride for same-sex couples. The package offers couples the choice of a "spectacular" room for the ceremony, professional photography, and overnight accommodations. Prices start at $3,869. More information is available at

The Williams Institute based its estimates on 2010 census data, average wedding expenditures in the states, and state tourism reports. The figures assume that 50 percent of same-sex couples in each state will marry in the first three years. The estimates don't account for resident same-sex couples who are already married in each state or registered as domestic partners. The data also don't include out-of-state same-sex couples that decide to travel to these states to marry.


Wedding Bell Blues is an online column looking at various issues related to the marriage equality fight in California and elsewhere. Please send column ideas or tips to Seth Hemmelgarn at or call (415) 861-5019. Wedding Bell Blues appears every other Tuesday.

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