Milestones Mark Fight for Same-Sex Marriage on Way to Supreme Court
A gay pride and an American flag hang from a shoulder bag during a demonstration in San Francisco June 13, 2011. On Friday, the Supreme Court announced it will review the constitutionality of both the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
The game hasn't changed -- just the players.
Nine years ago, it sounded like this: Two women in Massachusetts had a daughter through artificial insemination. They wanted the same legal privileges of marriage granted to heterosexual couples, so they asked the state court for expanded civil rights.
Now the Supreme Court will hear two cases with similar players and events in legal challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act Section 3 -- a federal law that allows states that bar same-sex marriage not to recognize states that do, like Massachusetts -- and Proposition 8, a voter referendum that bans same-sex marriage in California.
In about a decade, state-level law has changed in 10 places to recognize same-sex marriage: Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Washington and Washington, D.C. Another 30 states have forbidden it through constitution amendments.
The steady march forward on the issue continued to pivot on the same general arguments. Same-sex marriage advocates hope for a change as a way to recognize their equal rights. Those opposed to same-sex marriage find the recognition of marriage between one man and one woman as a fundamental underpinning of our society.
Take Martha Minow, now dean of law faculty at Harvard Law School. She spoke to the NewsHour in July 2003, before the Massachusetts court weighed in. She cited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in July of that year that struck down a sodomy ban in Texas.
She called the ruling "a first step in a free country toward what ultimately I think will be equality, equal treatment ... once people start to realize these are people just like us. They're our neighbors, sending their kids to school. We are not allowed by law to discriminate against them, and in fact we see that they deserve the same kind of treatment in the country as everybody else."
NewsHour correspondent Margaret Warner hosted Maggie Gallagher of the conservative Institute for Marriage and Public Policy in a debate on the NewsHour four months later, in November 2003.
Gallagher then knew the issue would eventually work its way through the federal court system:
"It's going to be a national battle from day one because the question is whether people who are married in Massachusetts who are same sex are going to have to be recognized in all 50 states ... It's a big national conversation about what marriage is and what it's for and whether fundamentally it's about adult interests and agendas in sexual liberty and sexual affirmations or if it's about the idea that all of us have an obligation to give our children mothers and fathers."
And back and forth it went.
A California court allowed same-sex marriage in 2008. But then a statewide vote, Proposition 8, nullified the ruling. The debate then moved to the federal arena, with a challenge to Proposition 8, and a court overturning the law because the state had given same-sex couples a right and took it away.
In the past six months, the debate has peaked, as same-sex marriage advocacy groups felt moments of success.
President Barack Obama announced his support of gay marriage at a time when gain support and financial backers was critical in his re-election efforts.
Then, on Election Day last month, voters in Washington state, Maryland and Maine decided to allow same-sex marriages, the first statewide referendums to do so.
For years, people who worked to protect marriage as defined as a union between one man and one woman had charged that most Americans sided with them, that no majority state's citizens wanted to allow same-sex marriage.
"We've had no real effective way to counter that argument until (Election Day)," Lee Swislow, executive director of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders told the NewsHour in November.
Now both arguments can receive equal time, in front of the country's highest court.