The legalization of same-sex marriage appears to be on a roll, particularly in the nation’s courts. On October 6th, the Supreme Court refused to take a case from the appellate courts regarding the constitutionality of gay marriage bans in the states. These bans had been ruled unconstitutional, and by refusing to hear the case, the Supreme Court effectively legalized gay marriage in a number of states.
Several of the states with legal gay marriage are the most conservative in the country-including Utah, Oklahoma and Kansas. Other states that legalized gay marriage as the result of the Supreme Court are Virginia, West Virginia, Colorado, Wyoming, North Carolina, Indiana, Wisconsin and South Carolina.
After the Supreme Court’s decision to not take a federal case, gay marriage is now legal, or will soon be legal, via the Supreme Court, in 34 states plus Washington DC. Judges have ruled gay marriage bans unconstitutional in Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Michigan and Texas. These rulings are currently under appeal. 55 percent of the US population now live in a state where same-sex marriage is already legal and around 65 percent will live in a state where same sex marriage is be legal following the Supreme Court ruling.
Public opinion has shifted significantly on the issue of same sex marriage. In 2004, President George W. Bush used ballot measures in a number of states that banned gay arriage as a means of increasing turnout and securing more votes for the President. This tactic was widely credited with securing Bush a second term.
2014 polls show 55 percent of Americans in favor gay marriage with 42 percent opposed while in 2004 60 percent of Americans opposed gay marriage with only 36 percent in favor. This is a remarkable 37 point shift of opinion in merely one decade.
The view on gay marriage within the Republican Party has shifted as well with 41 percent now backing same sex marriage legalization. Among younger demographics within the party solid majorities back legalization.
According to a comprehensive study conducted by PEW Research, 15 states still remained opposed to same sex marriage, including Tennessee which rejected the idea by a 31 percent margin as of May 2013. In Tennessee’s case it could be beneficial to see new polling. In May of 2013 the Supreme Court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and dozens of states have seen their numbers shift. This may have shifted the numbers in Tennessee.
In March 2014 a judge ruled Tennessee must recognize the marriages of same sex couples married in other states. This policy has support in Tennessee. A poll taken by Vanderbilt University in May found that 49 percent of Tennesseans support legally recognizing same sex couples but only 32 percent are in favor of full marriage rights. In 2006 an amendment was voted on by Tennessee voters called Amendment One. Amendment One was a constitutional ban on gay marriage similar to the ones in other states being declared unconstitutional. The amendment passed overwhelmingly, garnering 81.3 percent of the vote, and winning all 95 counties.
After the Supreme Court’s series of decisions, only 11 states will still prohibit gay marriage, and one of the 11 is Tennessee. At this rate, it remains unclear how long this state of affairs will last. A number of factors are putting pressure on Tennessee and the other remaining 11 states. The Supreme Court has made a number of decisions that expand same sex marriage rights. Their ruling of DOMA being unconstitutional, as well as their refusal to challenge appellate court rulings legalizing gay marriage all make it seem as though the judiciary is committed to expanding gay marriage. Nearly all lower court rulings have found gay marriage bans unconstitutional. The Federal government, through the Justice Department and Defense Department has also expanded the rights of gay couples. And lastly, the political zeitgeist has shifted. The majority of Americans now support Gay Marriage. Court precedent, action by the executive branch, and changing national opinion may put the bans in these 11 states on thin political ice.
And lastly, elected officials now increasingly support gay marriage rights. 187 current members of the House of Representatives, 117 former Representatives, 57 currently serving Senators, and 32 former Senators all have publicly come out supporting the legalization of same sex marriage. Most of the support is from one side only 30 Republicans support gay marriage.
However, there remains significant opposition to the idea. Two potential 2016 candidates issued statements about the Supreme Court’s recent decision. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee stated “If the Republicans want to lose guys like me — and a whole bunch of still God-fearing Bible-believing people — go ahead and just abdicate on this issue, and why you’re at it, go ahead and say abortion doesn’t matter, either. Because at that point, you lose me. I’m gone. I’ll become an independent. I’ll start finding people that have guts to stand. I’m tired of this.” Joining him was Sen. Ted Cruz who stated ““By refusing to rule if the states can define marriage, the Supreme Court is abdicating its duty to uphold the Constitution.” Cruz then announced he would shortly unveil legislation that would amend the constitution defining gay marriage as being between a man and a woman.
In Tennessee, nearly all elected officials are against same sex marriage. Sen. Alexander has stated he believes “Marriage is between one man and one woman”, and voted for a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. This is largely the same stance of every Republican elected official in Tennessee. Only Democratic Representatives Steve Cohen and Jim Cooper are in favor of legalizing same sex marriage.
Despite same sex marriage becoming more of the norm across the country, the Republican Party remains largely unified in its opposition to it. In Tennessee, that fact may mean same sex marriage will be an uphill battle for years to come, barring intervention from the courts.