01/30/2014 12:20 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

From Sea to Shining Sea: Achieving a Majority for the Freedom to Marry

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In 2008, I spent election night in California where the voters had just narrowly passed Proposition 8, prohibiting marriage for same-sex couples. At that moment, I wondered whether it would take decades to persuade Americans that gay and lesbian couples share many of their own hopes and dreams about marriage. But just five years later, we're starting 2014 with the freedom to marry secured in 17 states and the District of Columbia -- almost a third of the country -- with strong national support at 55 percent and climbing. In terms of social movements, progress has been lightning fast.

I'm thrilled by how far we've come, but there has been a key question nagging me: What is the level of support for the freedom to marry in states where same-sex marriage isn't legal? Where do voters stand in the middle of the country, not on the coasts?

Freedom to Marry commissioned Anzalone Liszt Grove Research last month to conduct a first-of-its-kind poll of registered voters who live in states without the freedom to marry. It found that a majority (51 percent) of registered voters in these mostly "red" states support marriage for same-sex couples, with only 41 percent opposed. The poll shows support strongest in the Central (59 percent) and Western (53 percent) parts of the country. In the South, voters are split evenly, 46 percent in support and 46 percent opposed.

In addition, the poll finds that regardless of personal views, 56 percent of voters in non-marriage states believe that marriage will be legal in their state in a couple of years. To me this translates into the reality that the train has left the station on the issue of marriage.

These results are remarkable -- remember, these are the states that still tell gay people that it's illegal to marry the person they love. But despite the fear-mongering of our opponents, none of the dire consequences they warn of -- not a single one -- has come to fruition in marriage states.

How have we come so far in such a short amount of time? The dramatic levels of support in these states reflect the impact of a national conversation America has been having about marriage and inherent values we hold dear. While the volume may be louder in the states where the issue has been debated on the ballot or in the statehouse, the national dialogue has clearly reached voters in every state.

Americans across the country have seen brave men and women who've served our country denied the opportunity to marry the person they love. They've seen elderly couples, together for 40 or more years, facing financial ruin with the death of a partner. They've seen major Republican leaders, civil rights leaders, professional athletes, and the President jump on board. They've seen their children going to school with classmates from different backgrounds and realized the importance of teaching them not to judge, to treat others as they would like to be treated.

All is not done, however. The freedom to marry must come to all 50 states. Where you live shouldn't determine if you can marry the person you love. With nearly 40 pending marriage lawsuits in 21 states across the country, the courts will continue to move the freedom to marry along in these so-called "purple" and "red" states (see Utah and Oklahoma just in the past few weeks). Eventually, one of them (or a case yet to be filed) will reach the U.S. Supreme Court, where the justices will have the opportunity to provide national resolution and end marriage discrimination in the country once and for all.

No one knows exactly when the Court will take the next marriage case. In this dynamic period ahead, Freedom to Marry will be working the same Roadmap to Victory strategy that brought us to this state of extraordinary momentum. We must keep winning as many states as possible --including Oregon this year -- as part of our larger work shaping the climate for the Court to do the right thing when the justices do take up a case, whether that's as early as 2015, or in the next several years. While we can't control the timing of when the Court will act, we do know our pathway forward. We must keep showing, not just telling, why marriage matters, to convey that America is ready for marriage for all loving couples in every state.