Gay Marriage 2013: What Can Other States Learn From This Week's Big Three?

From “when will it happen” to “who’s next,” the momentum of marriage equality has accelerated nationwide in the last three weeks. From Rhode Island to Delaware to Minnesota, the triumph same-sex marriage in these three states has signified its growing acceptance in the United States. According to a poll released by Gallup, 53% of Americans are now in favor of same-sex marriage, making it tie the high point that was also measured in November 2012 and May 2011. As more states are waiting for their same-sex marriage bill to pass, it might be helpful to summarize what has contributed to this wave of triumph. 

Rhode Island 

Rhode Island was the last state in New England to legalize same-sex marriage, and its triumph brings the number of states allowing same-sex marriage to 10. As a heavily Roman Catholic state, Rhode Island has been struggling against opposition from its religious community and Republicans. However, as the public opinion started to shift, all five Republican members of Rhode Island’s State Senate joined their peers to show support of freedom to marry. This makes Rhode Island the only state ever to have absolute support from both Democrats and Republicans. In addition, the state has a dedicated governor in Lincoln Chafee, who thinks that legalizing same-sex marriage is not only fair but good for the growth of business. 

“The talented workers who are driving the new economy — young, educated and forward-looking — want to live in a place that reflects their values,” wrote Chafee in an article in the New York Times

While supporters have been pushing the bill since 1997, this year’s triumph was led by another key figure, Speaker Gorden D. Fox of Rhode Island’s State House, who is openly gay. The passage of same-sex marriage in Rhode Island perhaps signals the gradual decline of religious impact on national politics, especially when public opinion is changing its direction. 

Delaware 

Five days after Rhode Island passed its same-sex marriage bill, Delaware became the 11th state to extend the freedom to marry to same-sex couples. While the votes were far closer than expected, Delaware’s State Senate still managed to push through the opposition. 

“If my happiness somehow demeans or diminishes your marriage, then you need to work on your marriage,” State Senator Karen Peterson said during the three-hour-long debate. 

Meanwhile, the opposition’s arguments have started to seem out of place. Senator Greg Lavelle, an opponent of the bill, said,“We won’t fully understand the impact of this legislation for years to come."

Arguments like this show that even the opposition has started to feel the pressure from growing public support for freedom to marry, and perhaps realize that their positions have become less convincing. 

Same-sex couples in Delaware become eligible for marriage licenses starting July 1. 

Minnesota 

The triumph of same-sex marriage in Minnesota is definitely the most encouraging news so far, since it is only the second state in the Midwest to take this historic step. After a bill was approved by the State House, the State Senate voted 37 to 30 to extend freedom to marry to same-sex couples on Monday. 

Minnesota’s bold move has been praised nationally for its positive impact on other Midwestern states’ battle for same-sex marriage. Illinois is another Midwestern state that’s currently in the process of attempting to legalize same-sex marriage. 

Monday’s result came as a surprise, since Minnesota has been debating an amendment to the state constitution that would narrowly define marriage as a right that belongs to heterosexual couples exclusively. The amendment was rejected in November 2012 and it gave the Democratic majority in Minnesota’s state legislature energy to legalize same-sex marriage. 

This issue has created tension between Minnesota’s urban and rural areas, where a partisan divide is still obvious.

 

Millennials and Shifting Public Opinion = The Winning Formula 

While we are celebrating the victories of same-sex marriage nationwide, it is also obvious that these three states couldn't have done it without efforts from millennials. Millennials’ open-mindedness challenges social conservatives and makes state politicians realize that extending the freedom to marry to same-sex couples is necessary to keep young people in their states. The growing public support also puts more pressure on conservatives, who by voting against same-sex marriage are now rejecting the majority's will.

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William Yang

William Yang is a writer, activist and blogger currently residing in Philadelphia while finishing his Master of Journalism degree at Temple University. He enjoys writing about human rights, equality and social welfare issues. While he's not writing, photography becomes another way for him to tell stories.

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