History and Politics Department Head Explores the Future of Same-Sex Marriage in the U.S.

May 14, 2013 —

Scott Barclay

      Dr. Scott Barclay

With Minnesota’s Senate becoming the 12th governing body to pass a same-sex marriage bill in the United States, Dr. Scott Barclay weighs in on the third of the nation that’s making strides towards gender and sexual equality, and the remaining states hanging in the marriage balance.

As of this week, 19 separate states (CA, CO, CT, DE, HI, IA, IL, MA, MD, ME, MN, NH, NJ, NY, NV, OR, RI, VT and WA) have introduced either marriage or civil unions for lesbian and gay couples. Twelve of these states (CT, DE, IA, MA, ME, MD, MN, NH, NY, RI, VT and WA) have marriage equality laws and seven states (CA, CO, HI, IL, NV, NJ and OR) have civil unions.

This result has been achieved in one of three ways:

  1. a state’s legislature successfully passed a bill though both legislative houses in support of same-sex marriage or civil unions and the state’s governor signed it into law;
  2. a state’s highest court judicially ordered the establishment of same-sex marriage and/or civil unions;
  3. a statewide popular initiative introduced same-sex marriage or civil unions.

Based on 2010 Census figures, over 127 million residents – 41% of the U.S. population – currently live in one of these 19 states. Although simple math indicates that 31 states remain, 19 states constitute well over one-third of all US states. The important point being that full or nearly full recognition by a state government for lesbian and gay couples in long-term, committed relationships is no longer aberrant or unusual. Since 2012, Gallup reports that public opinion polling results consistently find that the majority of Americans (over 50%) support same-sex marriage.

In fact, there is increasingly a sense of inevitability associated positively with the future prospects of same-sex marriage. This inevitability should be tempered with the recognition that 30 states (AL, AK, AZ, AR, CA, CO, FL, GA, KS, ID, KY, LA, MI, MS, MO, NE, NV, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, WI) still have state constitutional amendments prohibiting legal recognition of same-sex marriage in the requisite state. These existing constitutional amendments can only be removed by either the passage of a new state constitutional amendment directly on the issue, or a decision of a federal or state court that the original state prohibition is unconstitutional.

Pennsylvania does not have a state constitutional amendment, but it does have a statute restricting marriage to opposite sex couples. Accordingly, the state legislature could introduce same-sex marriage or civil unions simply by passing a law, if they wished to do so.

Dr. Scott Barclay joined Drexel University’s College of Arts and Sciences in the fall of 2011 as the head of the Department of History and Politics. He comes to the College after a two-year rotation at the National Science Foundation as a program director for the Law and Social Science Program. Barclay completed his undergraduate degree in Australia and received his Ph.D. from Northwestern University. He has previously held faculty positions at SUNY Albany, UC Santa Cruz, and the University of Washington. His current research project highlights the many ways that law is invoked, utilized, and reconstituted in the dynamic interaction of courts with social movements and state institutions. His primary example of late is the battle over same sex marriage in the 50 states. In his research, Barclay considers the complex interplay of political, demographic, cultural, and social movement factors that generate and influence legislative and judicial action around this issue since it first appeared on the national scene in 1971.