Marriage Equality for All: Getting From Here to There

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July 11, 2013
Legal Director Jon W. Davidson

In response to Lambda Legal’s announcement that we are planning on soon filing a marriage equality suit in federal court in Virginia along with our colleagues at the ACLU, we received comments from many supporters such as: “Do you have plans for my state?” “When will you sue in our state?” and “What about us?”

We hear you, and we agree that it is important that no state—and no couple—be left behind.

Lambda Legal soon will have lawsuits seeking the freedom to marry in all parts of the country. In the West, our federal suit challenging Nevada’s bar on same-sex couples marrying is now before the Ninth Circuit and could well be the next to reach the U.S. Supreme Court. In the East and Midwest, we just filed papers asking the courts for swift decisions in our freedom to marry lawsuit in New Jersey and in our and the ACLU’s marriage equality cases in Illinois. And, as we have just announced, we are about to be moving South, beginning in Virginia.

Victories in these lawsuits will help win the freedom to marry throughout the United States. A Supreme Court decision ultimately could do that in one fell swoop, and all victories along the way (whether achieved through court cases, legislative gains or ballot measures) make such a big win more likely and bring that day sooner. What we are doing at Lambda Legal is bringing the lawsuits that we believe have the greatest likelihood of success, in order to add to a rising tide that, in the shortest period of time, will lift all boats.

We have chosen the states we have because, after in-depth analysis, we have concluded they have the best chances of yielding good results. In some parts of the country, a lawsuit may be ill-advised because existing appellate precedent may make it hard to win. It is not that we care less about certain states or think that people living in those states are less deserving of the same rights as everyone else. Instead, we are being strategic in trying to rack up wins and avoid losses.

We have seen time and again that filing cases in states where the odds are stacked against victory can create adverse precedent and interfere with momentum, making future cases harder to win. Positive momentum will help us reach nationwide success sooner, and that’s why we are concentrating on jurisdictions where we think the chances are best to win.

The impatience that people feel is very understandable - we feel impatient too! It is manifestly wrong that same-sex couples in 37 states are still denied a basic and fundamental freedom that others enjoy, and the harms from being excluded from the tangible and intangible rights and responsibilities of marriage are serious and manifold.

But the legal process takes time and, in the course of history, the progress we have already made is truly unprecedented. We have changed America from a country in which our intimacy was deemed a crime in 13 states only 10 years ago to a country in which we can marry in 13 states and the District of Columbia and our federal government must treat our marriages as equal to everyone else’s.

That doesn’t mean there is nothing for people to do who live in states where a lawsuit may not be the best option and where legislative or ballot measures are not likely to succeed. We all have a part in this national campaign for love and equality.

What all of us can do is engage with others. What is true in life is true in our struggle: What leads to marriage is engagement. We each can engage with our family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, and everyone else with whom we interact about why we care about marriage equality for same-sex couples. This is action that each of us can take—whether we are in a committed same-sex relationship or not and whether we are LGBT or friends, family or allies.

How should we “get engaged”? Each of us will speak in our own words and share our own experiences. And Lambda Legal has a helpful guide about how to respond to the most commonly raised objections to the freedom to marry.

We also can engage on other issues—because marriage is only a part of the picture. Our agenda is full equality and justice for all LGBT people and all people living with HIV. Engaging people about the rights of those in our community who are being denied their rights at work, in schools, in family courts, in out-of-home care systems for youth, in health care settings, in immigration proceedings, and in our justice system are all of a piece. Each step forward helps the others.

The path to victory will be achieved by a combination of lawsuits, legislation, ballot measures and engagement with others. We at Lambda Legal are doing our best to launch and win the lawsuits that we believe have the highest likelihood of helping pave the way as quickly as possible to the ultimate victory that helps all of us, in every state in the nation.

Read the FAQs After DOMA: What It Means for You and Marriage for Same-Sex Couples in California. Still have questions? Contact our Legal Help Desk.