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Rev. Susan Russell Headshot

What a Difference a Year Makes

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On the morning of June 26, 2013 my partner and I sat in our living room in our PJs -- simultaneously glued to MSNBC, Twitter and SCOTUSblog -- awaiting the rulings on the "marriage equality cases:" Perry v. Schwarzenegger and United States v. Windsor.

Within minutes it became clear that not only was the Perry decision bringing marriage equality back to California but the Windsor decision was going to have sweeping impact across the country.

We had no idea just how sweeping that impact would be. And what a difference a year makes.

In the year since the Prop 8/Windsor decisions, the movement on marriage equality has been truly a seismic shift. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia now have marriage equality, representing nearly half the population of the United States. U.S. district courts in Utah, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Virginia, Texas, Michigan, Ohio, Idaho, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Indiana; along with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit; and state courts in both Arkansas and Texas have found state constitutional amendments or statutes banning same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

In the words of U.S. District Court Judge Richard L. Young's finding against Indiana's ban:

The court has never witnessed a phenomenon throughout the federal court system as is presented with this issue. In less than a year, every federal district court to consider the issue has reached the same conclusion in thoughtful and thorough opinions -- laws prohibiting the celebration and recognition of same-sex marriages are unconstitutional.

It is clear that the fundamental right to marry shall not be deprived to some individuals based solely on the person they choose to love. In time, Americans will look at the marriage of couples such as Plaintiffs, and refer to it simply as a marriage -- not a same-sex marriage. These couples, when gender and sexual orientation are taken away, are in all respects like the family down the street. The Constitution demands that we treat them as such.

As an American citizen, I take delight that in ruling by ruling -- case by case -- the courts have made and re-made the critical argument that equal protection is not equal protection unless it equally protects ALL Americans.

And as a priest and pastor, I take equal delight in the clear, unequivocal nature of the decisions that state -- again and again -- that the First Amendment that protects us all to freely exercise our own religious beliefs also protects us all from anyone confusing their theology with our democracy. In words from the June 25th Tenth Circuit ruling in Kitchen v. Herbert:

We respect the views advanced by members of various religious communities and their discussions of the theological history of marriage. And we continue to recognize the right of the various religions to define marriage according to their moral, historical, and ethical precepts. Our opinion does not intrude into that domain or the exercise of religious principles in this arena. The right of an officiant to perform or decline to perform a religious ceremony is unaffected by today's ruling.

The Tenth Circuit has stayed its own ruling, pending appeal to the Supreme Court. And whether that happens sooner or later -- and whether this is the case SCOTUS chooses to hear -- is uncertain. What is certain is that the tide has turned, the tipping point has tipped and the arc of history is bending faster toward justice for same-sex couples than even the most ardent supporter of marriage equality might have asked for or imagined.

A wise mentor of mine taught us that our job was to set audacious goals and to celebrate incremental victories. So recognizing that we have miles to go before we rest -- and knowing that we live in a world where today's two steps forward for justice can become one step back if we fail to vigilant in our struggle for justice -- today is a day to celebrate the incremental victories that have brought as this far. And then to redouble our efforts to finish the work.

As for me and my partner, on June 26, 2014 we won't be glued to MSNBC, twitter and SCOTUSblog waiting to see if we'll have marriage equality back in California -- we'll be making final arrangements for our June 28th wedding. We've got the license in hand, the church booked and the cake on order. The family is arriving, the flowers are being arranged and the champagne corks are ready to pop.

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What a difference a year makes!