The sweeping significance of the Supreme Court’s landmark gay-rights decision in United States v. Windsor, last June, has become even more evident in the past month, thanks to a series of important lower-court decisions that have interpreted it broadly. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Windsor invalidated the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), but the Court stopped short of finding a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. In another decision, delivered on the same day in June, the Court restored marriage equality in California, though it did so on procedural grounds, dismissing a challenge to a lower-court ruling that overturned Proposition 8, the state’s gay-marriage ban, on the grounds that the plaintiffs lacked legal standing.
Taken together, the decisions indicated that while the Supreme Court was willing to substantially advance the cause of same-sex marriage, it was not yet ready to find a constitutional right to marriage equality. Seven months later, it is now clear that gay-rights advocates and lower-court federal judges are not inclined to accept further delays–and, moreover, that the language of the Windsor decision may have been so powerful that the Court in fact accelerated a movement it sought to temporarily restrain.
After the Supreme Court’s decisions in June, four more states moved to legalize same-sex marriage. New Jersey was the first, in October, after Governor Chris Christie withdrew his appeal of a state court’s decision granting marriage equality. In November, state legislatures in Hawaii and Illinois passed long-stalled same-sex-marriage bills. And in December, the New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously ruled to affirm the right of same-sex couples to marry there, bringing the total number of states that allow same-sex marriages to seventeen.