Ten states to tackle gay marriage next

Image: The San Francisco Pride weekend in San Francisco, California.
Bambi Robinson, left, hugs her partner of 16 years Willi Fuller after the couple exchanged vows at City Hall in San Francisco on Sunday.Jana Asenbrennerova / Reuters / X02993

Energized by two big victories at the Supreme Court, advocates of gay marriage are turning their attention to a handful of states that they believe are most likely to allow it next.

One of those two wins made California the 13th state where gay couples can now legally get married. Counting the District of Columbia, gay marriage is legal in places covering about 30 percent of the U.S. population.

National gay rights groups say they now hope to persuade either the Supreme Court or Congress to legalize gay marriage across the country — in a matter of years, not decades.

“The answer is to win more states, win a critical mass of states, and a critical mass of public support, which creates a climate that encourages the court to do its job,” said Evan Wolfson, founder of Freedom to Marry, a pro-gay-marriage group.

Here are the states that advocates say will be the next battlegrounds.


Illinois: Gay marriage almost passed the Legislature this spring, but a Democratic state representative tearfully told his colleagues that he didn’t have the votes and would give them time to talk it over with constituents.

Advocates say the next try will probably come in late October, when lawmakers gather for a short session. They believe the Supreme Court rulings, particularly one extending federal benefits to gay spouses, could make the difference.

“It’s one thing to be against the marriage bill ideologically,” said Randy Hannig, director of public policy at the pro-gay-marriage group Equality Illinois. “It’s another thing to stand in the way of people receiving benefits.”

New Jersey: Gov. Chris Christie, a potential Republican presidential candidate for 2016, vetoed a gay-marriage bill last year. He said last week that he’d do it again, and that the state should “let the people decide.”

Democrats in the Legislature are considering whether to try to override the veto. The Legislature could also put gay marriage on the ballot this fall. A Rutgers University poll two weeks ago suggested it would pass easily.

There’s also a path through the courts. New Jersey has civil unions, but seven gay couples are arguing that those don’t comply with a 2006 state Supreme Court ruling that gay and straight couples should have equal rights. A hearing is expected in August.

Hawaii: Fear that the Aloha State would become the first to allow gay marriage led Republicans to write the Defense of Marriage Act, which was signed by President Bill Clinton and stood from 1996 until the Supreme Court struck it down last week.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat, supports gay marriage, and bills to authorize it have been introduced in the state House and Senate. Hawaii has had civil unions since January 2012.

Advocates for gay marriage are pushing in Hawaii federal court, too. But Marty Rouse, national field director for the Human Rights Campaign, said he wouldn’t be surprised to see lawmakers act first — “much sooner than later.”


Oregon: It’s one of 29 states with a constitutional ban on gay marriage, and it could be the first state where voters repeal such a ban. Advocates are eying the November 2014 election and need 116,000 signatures to get on the ballot.

Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, Ohio: Voters could be asked as early as November 2014 to overturn the constitutional ban, but advocates must decide whether to wait for 2016, a presidential election year, when turnout will be higher.

Nevada: The earliest gay marriage could get on the ballot is 2016, Rouse said, because of a quirk in a state law requiring two votes in the Legislature with a general election sandwiched in between.

New Mexico: It’s complicated. A court case could be decided as early as next year. The Legislature could act, too, but bills both to enact and prohibit gay marriage have gone nowhere so far, and Gov. Susana Martinez opposes it.