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Huge advances for gay marriage in an eventful year

Thursday, June 26, 2014 | 6:39 p.m. CDT
On Nov. 5, 2013, Illinois Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, left, is congratulated by lawmakers as same-sex marriage legislation passes on the House floor during veto session in Springfield, Ill. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, top center, looks on. Quinn signed the gay marriage bill on a desk once used by President Abraham Lincoln.

One year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a pair of landmark rulings, one striking down the statute that denied federal recognition to same-sex marriages and the other clearing the way for gay couples to wed legally in California.

In the 12 months since then, the ripple effects of those rulings have transformed the national debate over same-sex marriage, convincing many people on both sides that its spread nationwide is inevitable.

From the East Coast to the Midwest and the Pacific, seven more states legalized same-sex marriage, boosting the total to 19, plus Washington, D.C. The Obama administration moved to extend federal benefits to married gay couples. And in 17 consecutive court decisions, federal and state judges have upheld the right of gays to marry. Not a single ruling has gone the other way.

Here's a look back at some of the notable developments since June 26, 2013:

July

On July 1, five days after the high-court rulings, two men who had been partners since 1989 tried to obtain a marriage license at a courthouse in Norfolk, Va. Timothy Bostic and Tony London were turned down, and they filed a lawsuit a few weeks later arguing Virginia's treatment of gays and lesbians was depriving them of the many benefits of marriage.

Another gay couple was later added to the case, and in February a federal judge, Arenda Wright Allen, ruled in their favor, saying Virginia's ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional.

October

Moments after midnight on Oct. 21, gay couples began exchanging vows in New Jersey as their state became the 14th to allow same-sex marriages. A state judge, in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions, had ruled in September that New Jersey's provisions for civil unions were not adequate to ensure equality for gay couples. The state's politically ambitious Republican governor, Chris Christie, had fought for years against gay marriage, but within hours of the first weddings, he dropped his still-pending appeal of the court ruling.

"The governor will do his constitutional duty and ensure his administration enforces the law," a statement from his office said.

November

In the span of a week, the governors of Hawaii and Illinois signed laws legalizing same-sex marriage.

In Hawaii, tourism officials looked ahead to the possibility of becoming a gay wedding mecca. Some activists looked back — saying Hawaii was an early battleground in the gay marriage debate.

The state Supreme Court had ruled in 1993 that gay couples should have marriage rights, triggering a backlash that included congressional passage of the Defense of Marriage Act in 1994. It was a key part of that act — forbidding the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages — that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a year ago.

In Illinois, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn signed the marriage bill on a desk once used by President Abraham Lincoln. Among those speaking at the ceremony was state Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, a Republican.

"History will show that we got it right on this one," she said. "I am available to be a flower girl, and I'll even waive the fee."

December

New Mexico became the 17th state to legalize same-sex marriage Dec. 19, through a unanimous ruling by the state Supreme Court.

Some opponents discussed trying to overturn the ruling with a ballot measure, but that effort gained no traction. The Republican governor, Susana Martinez, urged New Mexicans to "respect one another in their discourse" and turn their focus to other issues.

A day after that ruling, a federal judge in Utah created even bigger waves, striking down the ban on gay marriage that voters in the conservative state had approved in 2004. It was the first of more than a dozen similar rulings to follow by judges in other states.

U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby, a former Army combat engineer, said in his 53-page decision Utah failed to show how allowing same-sex marriages would harm opposite-sex marriages in any way.

"In the absence of such evidence, the state's unsupported fears and speculations are insufficient to justify the state's refusal to dignify the family relationships of its gay and lesbian citizens," he wrote.

More than 1,000 gay and lesbian couples wed in Utah before Shelby's ruling was stayed.

May

Late in the afternoon of May 9, a county circuit judge in Little Rock struck down Arkansas' 10-year ban on gay marriages.

A week passed before Judge Chris Piazza's ruling was stayed by the state Supreme Court, creating an opening in which more than 540 gay couples received marriage licenses — the first batch of gay weddings in the former Confederacy.

In Oregon, U.S. District Judge Michael McShane threw out the state's same-sex marriage ban May 18. Oregon became the 18th state to allow gay marriage because top government officials had refused to defend the ban.

The next day, on the other side of the country, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III struck down Pennsylvania's marriage law.

"We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history," Jones wrote in his decision.

Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, though opposed to gay marriage, said he would not appeal, and Pennsylvania became the 19th state where gay couples could wed.

June

As the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's marriage rulings approached, marriage-equality lawsuits were pending in all 31 of the states still barring gays from marrying.

On Wednesday, a federal judge in Indiana struck down that state's ban. And more notably, the first ruling was issued at the level of the federal appellate courts. A 2-1 decision from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Shelby that Utah's gay-marriage ban was unconstitutional.

It's possible that in another year, the issue could be back before the U.S. Supreme Court — with the justices facing a clear-cut choice on whether to rule that gay marriage must be allowed in every state.


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