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Blue The Nation | September 2, 2014

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14 States That Will Legalize Gay Marriage by 2015

14 States That Will Legalize Gay Marriage by 2015
Jonathan Nathan

With the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hollingsworth v. Perry affirming the lower court rulings that California’s gay marriage ban was unconstitutional, there are now 13 states that have legalized gay marriage, in addition to the District of Columbia. A handful of states have also codified a form of separate-but-equal marital segregation, allowing LGBT couples to have “civil unions” or “domestic partnerships.”

But in the wake of Hollingsworth, as well as a companion ruling which struck down key portions of the Defense of Marriage Act, the battlefield for advocates of marriage equality is expanding both in the courtroom and in legislatures across America. In fact, Blue The Nation is prepared to make the bold statement that by the beginning of 2015, 27 states will have legalized gay marriage. Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Wisconsin are all poised for major developments in the area of marriage equality.

Arizona: 55% of Arizonans support marriage equality, and a ballot measure to legalize gay marriage is expected in 2014. The national trend on marriage equality has been a shift to the left over the course of the last ten years, and Arizona is beginning to move leftward in general. Nothing is likely to happen between now and November 2014 to reverse either trend. Equality should win the day in Arizona by a comfortable margin.

Colorado: One of many formerly red states that has shifted to the left largely due to social issues like women’s rights and LGBT rights, Colorado boasts 53% support for marriage equality. When Colorado finally legalizes gay marriage, it will be the end of a very long journey. Boulder County was one of the very first battlegrounds in the marriage-equality fight. The state currently has a pretty good civil unions law which passed just this year, and there’s a lot of optimism that full marriage equality will be achieved either legislatively or electorally by the end of 2014.

Florida: In the wackiest state in the union, 45% of voters support marriage equality, while 43% do not. And that’s a conservative estimate. Other polls indicate that support could be in the high 50s. Either way, it’s good news given that Floridians will probably be voting on the matter in 2014.

Hawaii: Hawaii was actually the first state to expressly legalize gay marriage, but its state Supreme Court decision on the subject was invalidated by a voter-approved amendment to the state constitution. Such an amendment would be less successful today, as 55% of Hawaiians support marriage equality. A bill to legalize gay marriage was introduced in the legislature in January but never got a vote. The Supreme Court rulings, however, have spurred lawmakers to action. Several legislators, as well as the Governor, are publicly talking about calling a special session for the specific purpose of voting on the bill. Even some legislators who voted against civil unions in the past now appear to have changed their positions. The Governor, who has the power to call a special session, is also in favor of marriage equality. It appears likely that Hawaii will legalize gay marriage by the end of this year. And if the legislature doesn’t act, the Ninth Circuit Court may act for them in Jackson v. Abercrombie, a lawsuit originating in the state.

Illinois: A full 50% of Illinoisans support marriage equality. That fact will probably help convince a few recalcitrant state legislators to lend their support to a law legalizing gay marriage in the state. The bill didn’t have enough votes to pass in the regular session, but at this point it appears all but certain that the Democratic Governor of the state will call a special session to try again. It’s not as sure a thing as it is in Hawaii, but expect Illinois to have legalized gay marriage by the end of this year. And like Hawaii, Illinois has a pair of lawsuits on the subject currently under way.

Michigan: Did you know that people from Michigan are called “Michiganders”? That’s so much fun. Anyway, 57% of Michiganders support marriage equality. They may get the chance to prove it in 2014 when the issue appears on the ballot, but that’s only if the legal system doesn’t solve the problem first. In Michigan’s gay marriage lawsuit, DeBoer v. Snyder, the judge has thus far appeared very sympathetic toward the plaintiffs. When he denied the state’s motion to dismiss, he cited the Supreme Court’s recent rulings in an opinion that all but told the plaintiffs what to argue in order to secure his support.

New Jersey: Politics in New Jersey is sort of the way House of Cards wants you to think politics in Washington, D.C. is. Everything is this massive, titanic battle of wills between various forces and factions and everybody’s sort of like a character from The Wire in that you might like them but you can hardly describe them as “good.” And so it is with the fight for marriage equality. One of the loudest pro-equality voices in the state is Senate President Stephen Sweeney, but Sweeney abstained from the civil-unions vote in 2009. And Republican Governor Chris Christie is against gay marriage but has very murky social-conservative credentials if you dig into his personal history.

New Jersey lawmakers passed a law legalizing gay marriage last year, but Christie vetoed it. Sweeney and other Democratic leaders, particularly Democratic gubernatorial challenger Barbara Buono, have vowed to hold an override vote this year. The plan is to do so as soon as the Democrats know they have the necessary votes. As of now, they believe they have them in the Senate but are still about a half-dozen short in the Assembly. Those votes will have to come from Republicans, which could prove to be a challenge. Sweeney has accused Christie of ordering the Republican caucus to support his veto. In an election year in a blue state, particularly one in which 59% of voters support marriage equality, those orders are going to be tough for some vulnerable Republicans to follow. Their best hope, at this point, is that the state Supreme Court rules on the subject and spares them the choice.

Nevada: So this one’s kind of a cheat, because Nevada’s legislature actually already legalized gay marriage this year. The reason you didn’t hear about it is that for the measure to actually come into effect, the legislature has to vote for it again in 2015, and then the voters have to approve it in 2016. Fortunately, they will, since 54% of them support marriage equality. With any luck, however, they won’t have to. The Ninth Circuit Court is hearing a Nevada case, Sevcik v. Sandoval, alongside the case from Hawaii. The Ninth Circuit tends to be fairly liberal in its rulings, and has a history of being especially progressive on marriage equality.

New Mexico: Lew Wallace, a Governor of New Mexico in days of yore–and also the author of Ben-Hur, weirdly–once said, “Every calculation based on experience elsewhere fails in New Mexico.” It’s a line often recited when observers discuss the state, which has the odd distinction of being the only one that has neither permitted nor prohibited gay marriage. De facto, that state of limbo has meant that gay marriage is not licensed, but the Santa Fe City Council just recently ordered declared that it is legal in Santa Fe and ordered county clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples requesting them. There are also three lawsuits currently before the state Supreme Court and a probably ballot measure slated for 2014. 47% of New Mexicans would vote in favor of marriage equality, which is good enough for a plurality.

Ohio: Man it must suck to be a Republican and look at all the states your party used to be able to count on. 54% of Ohioans would support an amendment enshrining marriage equality in the state’s constitution. That’s a good thing, because such an amendment is likely to be on the ballot in 2014.

Oregon: Like several other states, Oregon is going to have a marriage equality measure on the ballot in November 2014. And assuming nothing crazy happens, a good 54% of the electorate can be relied upon to vote in favor of marriage equality. 49% of Oregonians would even support a constitutional amendment declaring gay marriage to be legal, just for good measure.

Pennsylvania: Even though both chambers of the state legislature are Republican-controlled, bills have been introduced in both the state Senate and the state House to legalize gay marriage. It’s unclear whether these bills will make progress, but Republican lawmakers would be wise to listen to their constituents: 54% of Pennsylvanians are in favor of marriage equality, including 53% who would vote for an amendment to the state constitution guaranteeing the right of same-sex couples to marry.

Utah: This is the longest shot out of all of these, but I still think it’s going to happen. Even though there’s basically no support for marriage equality in the electorate or in the legislature, there is a lawsuit currently making its way through the courts. I believe that lawsuit will end with marriage equality in Utah.

Wisconsin: This is the only state on this list in which nothing is actually brewing right now with regard to marriage equality. No lawsuits, no bills being introduced, no ballot measures in 2014, no nothing. The reason I include it, however, is that gay marriage is polling better now in Wisconsin than it ever has before, with 44% in favor to just 46% against. The state proved to be a hotbed of progressive support and passion during the Scott Walker debacle, and a ballot measure campaign could easily get the question in front of voters next year.

  • Dave

    I’m from Pennsylvania. I think the chances of marriage equality happening here are pretty small. The GOP has a stranglehold lock on both Assembly chambers and the next redistricting isn’t until 2020. Even if the current GOP governor is kicked to the curb, which is certainly possible given his horrible approval numbers, the statehouse is still firmly in the GOP’s grip.

    So maybe in the early 2020s, but I think 2015 is way optimistic.

    • JonathanNathan

      That’s all true, but with over 50% of Pennsylvanians in support of equality, I think a ballot measure campaign would make good sense. And GOP legislators might well take a look at the poll numbers and realize they’re better off shifting blue on what is, for them, a low-value issue, given that they are in a blue state and will not be holding onto their majorities for very long if they stay hard-right. They lose three seats in the Senate and they lose the majority. Granted, it’s hard to see which seats those would be, but they can’t be cocky. And they’re in even bigger trouble in the House. I think the Democrats could easily see a net pickup of 15 seats in 2014. If they want to hold their majorities they need to listen to what PA is saying to them.

  • Timothy Duane Haynes

    Kansas. Still not on the list.