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Q&A with Scott Barclay: The Future of Same-Sex Marriage in the United States

May 15, 2013

same sex marriage
Scott Barclay

Minnesota recently became the 12th state to pass a same-sex marriage bill in the United States—now one third of the nation is making strides toward gender and sexual equality. Drexel’s Dr. Scott Barclay, head of the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of History and Politics, weighs in on this trend and the remaining states hanging in the marriage-equality balance.

Which states are in support of same-sex marriage and can you clarify which states have introduced marriage equality laws and/ or civil unions?

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.

Based on 2010 Census figures, more than 127 million residents—41 percent 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 U.S. 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.

What is the process to get same-sex marriage and civil union bills signed into law?

It can be achieved in one of three ways:

  • 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.
  • A state’s highest court judicially ordered the establishment of same-sex marriage and/or civil unions.
  • A statewide popular initiative introduced same-sex marriage or civil unions.

How is public opinion on gay marriage changing?

Since 2012, Gallup reports that public opinion polling results consistently find that the majority of Americans (greater than 50 percent) 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 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.

How does public opinion of gay marriage in Pennsylvania differ from the rest of the country?

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.