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Is Marriage Equality Inevitable?

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The greatest roadblock to marriage equality has been the ballot box. In less than two months, voters will determine the fate of marriage equality in Maine, Maryland, and Washington. Voters will also have their say on a state constitutional prohibition against same-sex marriages in Minnesota. For the first time, however, I have little doubt that all four of these states hold real potential to break the heart-wrenching losing streak that marriage equality has suffered in election after election.

At the same time, I see governors and legislators standing at the ready to do what is right, fair, and just. A handful of politicians in Delaware, Illinois, New Jersey, and Rhode Island are committed to pushing for marriage equality in 2013 and join states like New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire. But then there are the states that remain. The overwhelming majority of those states have constitutional bans on same-sex marriages. The few that do not, perhaps save Hawaii, lack any political will to join the right side of history.

If by 2013's end, marriage equality is successful in every instance where it is promising, same-sex couples will enjoy the freedom to marry in 15 states, including California, plus the District of Columbia -- a powerful jump from the seven jurisdictions that recognize marital rights for same-sex couples today.

Consider this in relative terms. In 2003, when the Supreme Court found a constitutional right to engage in private, consensual homosexual conduct, all but 14 states repealed or invalidated their laws criminalizing same-sex sexual conduct. When the Supreme Court invalidated interracial marriage bans in 1967, all but 16 states repealed their anti-miscegenation statutes.

I consider these facts as I contemplate recent, confident proclamations from celebrities and the vice president that marriage equality is "inevitable."

Is it?

Ultimately, to secure the freedom to marry for same-sex couples nationwide, intervention by federal courts is necessary. But if our pleas are to be successfully heard by sympathetic judges, we must expand the patchwork of states recognizing same-sex marriage to the greatest degree possible. History suggests that as of September 2012, we aren't there quite yet.

One legal scholar recently opined that Justice Kennedy, who is the most likely swing vote in favor of the freedom to marry, "often converts dominant social mores into constitutional commands to bring outlier states into line with the majority. In this case, the states that allow gay marriage are in a distinct minority, suggesting he might be reluctant to identify such a constitutional right." In essence, every victory we achieve in the states makes the battle in the Supreme Court an easier one to wage.

Marriage equality is inevitable. The generational divide in polling proves this. The question we really must ask is this: When will a national consensus cross the threshold so that it is no longer merely inevitable but imminent? For the marriage-equality movement, that threshold moment can be nearly achieved on Nov. 6.

If we want to see a nation where the freedom to marry for same-sex couples is recognized and honored in every state, we cannot presume marriage equality's inevitability. Rather, each of us from every corner of the country must take action and give of our time and resources to Marylanders for Marriage Equality, Mainers United for Marriage, Minnesotans United for All Families, and Washington United for Marriage, and secure decisive wins at the voting booth.

The timing of our progressing struggle's success will ultimately rest on whether we choose provincial complacency or rise to a common dutiful allegiance -- of a national character -- to overcome the difficult challenges our movement faces outside our own state borders.

To simply acknowledge the generational inevitably of marriage equality without assuming a personal duty to advance change is a moral failure of dire consequence. It coldly ignores the daily injury to same-sex couples' right to be free of discrimination and exercise basic legal, social, and economic needs. It turns a blind eye to the quiet suffering that LGBT children will unnecessarily endure, pushing them to tragically question their own self-worth and their rightful place in a society that fails to recognize their basic human dignity.

We must remember that each of our destinies is inexorably bound to one another. Particularly in this fierce urgency of now, we must do our part to make equality count, not only for ourselves but for our brothers and sisters in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington.