I think we can all agree that it’s been a good few weeks for gay marriage. After the Supreme Court overturned DOMA on Wednesday, the internet was flooded with jubilant tweets and progressive excitement, not to mention marriage proposals between couples whose partnerships had been long unrecognized by the federal government. But while the SCOTUS decision was a huge step forward, the fight for same-sex marriage is far from over. Thirty-five states — well over half the country — have some kind of constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. One of those states is Arizona. But on June 18, Tuscon became the second city in the state to defy the state government and permit same-sex unions, creating an oasis for same-sex couples in a very conservative state.
Obviously, this is a great move. Tuscon and Bisbee, which enacted a similar statute earlier in June, will let couples register their civil unions with the city, opening up access to all marriage rights that the city alone bestows. Their rights as married couples will still be limited by what the cities can provide, but it’s definitely better than nothing.
The new statutes raise an interesting question, though, one that same-sex couples all over those thirty-five states will have to grapple with in the coming years. Where are the lines between federal, state, and city jurisdiction over same-sex marriage? As of Wednesday, the federal government will recognize same-sex unions. In a state like Arizona, in a city like Tuscon, a gay couple wanting to marry will be welcomed by their federal government and their city government but turned away by their state. What rights does their marriage have and not have?
The legal waters here are murky. While the tide of public opinion is clearly in favor of same-sex marriage across the country, the majority of states still refuse to recognize those unions. If more cities follow Tuscon’s example, things will get even more complicated. When North Carolina’s anti-gay Amendment 1 passed by 61% last May, the biggest urban centers of North Carolina voted against the rest of the state. In one city, Durham, 65% of voters opposed the amendment. The split between city and state on gay marriage is real, and it’s not just in Arizona.
Right now, same-sex couples all over the country are rejoicing over the Supreme Court decision. I imagine couples in Tuscon are even happier. These steps forward are absolutely causes for celebration. Every time I hear about a new institution making a choice to support every kind of love, I feel a little better about the world. But until every state in our country can recognize marriage between two men or two women, same-sex couples are going to be facing some very tricky legal problems.