Editors' Note: Guest blogger Toni Broaddus is the Executive Director of the Equality Federation. The Federation is the national alliance of state-based lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy organizations.
Just over an hour ago, the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of equality and justice by extending the right to marry to same-sex couples. The Court overturned Proposition 22 - a statute enacted by the voters in 2000 - along with other legal provisions that would prevent loving and committed couples from getting marriage licenses. I haven't managed to read the entire 172-page document yet, but I know the only important thing that matters right now: WE WON.
Like everyone else at the Equality Federation offices here in San Francisco - and in workplaces across the country, I am overwhelmed by emotion. I cannot stop laughing and crying at the same time.
This may be a historical decision but it is extremely personal as well. For me, the political and personal are so intertwined on this issue that I can no longer separate them. I have been happily partnered for fifteen years, and Janice and I have registered as domestic partners in multiple cities and before notaries to satisfy employer requirements and of course in the state of California, where we live. In 2004, we were married at City Hall in San Francisco - and six months later, we were "divorced" by the court when our marriage was deemed invalid. Last September, my daughter married her girlfriend in Massachusetts.
TODAY'S HISTORIC DECISION
I worked on the campaign to defeat Proposition 22 in 2000 - and I can tell you that those of us who poured our hearts into that campaign are feeling especially vindicated today by the Court's clear repudiation of that ill-conceived law. After the campaign, I started a marriage organization in California that later merged into Equality California, where I was part of the team that passed the landmark comprehensive domestic partnership law in the state - laying the groundwork for marriage equality. Now I lead Equality Federation - the national alliance of state-based lgbt equality groups - where we work to build strong organizations in the states that can lead our movement to victories like the one we have in California today.
I am overjoyed today. But I am also nervous. Anti-gay forces have submitted the signatures for a ballot measure in November that would take away the right to marriage by amending the California constitution to deny so many of us Californians our equality.
We must not lose in California in November. Just as we did in Massachusetts, we must protect our equality. And it will take our entire movement - not just Californians - to ensure that we keep the right to marry in the second state to extend that right. This is absolutely critical, not only for Californians, but for every other state across this country where we continue to work for victories like the one in my state today.
We now have two states with constitutional guarantees of marriage equality. But we still have 26 state constitutional amendments and 38 state statutes expressly prohibiting marriage equality. Thanks in part to the momentum that today's California decision will create, we have very real opportunities to expand the number of marriage equality states in the next two years.
Currently, our best chances for new marriage victories are in New Jersey and New York. Despite bitter losses in the courts there, both New Jersey's Garden State Equality and New York's Empire State Pride Agenda are aggressively pursuing marriage equality in their legislatures and victory is within our reach. We also have marriage litigation pending in Iowa and Connecticut. In both those states, equality groups (One Iowa and Love Makes a Family, respectively) are also working to build legislative support for marriage equality.
All across America, state equality groups are pursuing the passage of relationship recognition laws even when their constitutions and state laws prevent them from pursuing full equality. Our progress is steady, even if it feels slow. But in less than a decade, state legislatures have approved comprehensive civil unions or domestic partnership laws in Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey, New Hampshire, California and Oregon. Maine and Washington have joined early achievers Hawai'i and DC to pass domestic partnership laws and incremental expansion of those laws is planned.
What we have learned from our successes and our setbacks in the states is that we must fight this battle on multiple fronts. Even in Massachusetts, we could not rest on the ruling of the court. We also had to win in the legislature, and we had to win the hearts and minds of the people. This is the challenge we face in every single state.
WHAT IT TAKES TO WIN: THE CALIFORNIA STORY
In California, the strategy to win marriage equality has been thoughtful, complex, and engaged in every available forum. We took great leaps forward and suffered serious disappointments along the way, but we have been intentionally building momentum for nearly a decade.
The strategy and the story are similar in every state. Our state equality organizations are introducing legislation, electing supportive legislators, conducting ongoing public education campaigns, fighting ballot measures, and working with our legal organizations to increase the likelihood of our success in the courts. In California, all of these tactics have been in play simultaneously.
California's first domestic partnership law passed in 1999, but in 2000 the voters approved one of the first statewide ballot measures banning marriage equality. Perhaps not as bold as they later became, anti-gay activists in California did not propose a constitutional amendment - something they have managed to pass in 26 states since then. Instead, California got a statute stating that "only marriage between a man and woman shall be valid or recognized in California." That was a critical mistake on the part of our opponents, as it left us with both hope and strategies tied to the California Constitution.
Over the next few years, the domestic partnership law was amended several times, most significantly in 2003. By 2006 the law was essentially the equivalent of what other states call civil unions - nearly all the state rights and responsibilities of marriage by another name. Just as in every other state (even Massachusetts), California domestic partners remain unrecognized by federal law and most other state laws.
In early 2004, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom made headlines around the world when he announced that The City would issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. It was a magical moment that did not stop for weeks, as thousands of couples flocked to City Hall to make their commitments legal. This victory was short-lived, however. The California Supreme Court declared the marriages invalid. But they invited us to file suit to overturn the law that they had decided the Mayor must obey.
The City of San Francisco accepted the invitation, as did numerous couples and Equality California, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal, and the ACLU. Three years ago, the California marriage cases began winding their way through the halls of justice.
In the meantime, Equality California and our elected champions worked ceaselessly to garner support for a marriage equality bill. In 2005, California's state legislature became the first in the nation to pass such a bill. It was vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger. Undaunted - and after all supporters of the bill were re-elected - the legislature passed marriage equality a second time in 2007. Schwarzenegger again vetoed the bill.
Now we face a painful ballot measure in November. But unlike the ballot measures fights in other states - we will have married couples whose dignity and rights would be stripped away by this constitutional amendment. We will have story after story of the joy and dignity people have experienced by marrying. We can win and must win this fight - if we do not, it will set us back in states across the country where we continue our steady progress toward equality.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
We are not done. This is a joyous day and we should celebrate. But tomorrow, we must double and triple our efforts in California and New York and New Jersey and Connecticut and Iowa to seize this momentum, protect equality where we have it, and win marriage equality where we are already poised to do so.
Everyone knows that, someday, we must and we will achieve recognition of our marriages from the federal government. But that day will come only after we have achieved true marriage equality in a critical mass of states. We have to do this one state at a time.
How do we do it?
We have to be incredibly focused on the work that happens every day in our states. We have to learn to speak with unity even when we disagree. We have to elect good legislators to our state house and we have to hold them accountable. We have to attend lobby days, send emails, volunteer, pick up the phone. We have to support our state advocacy organizations so that we can act as a community to sponsor legislation, support candidates, and join our voices together to demand the birthright of every American: equality and justice for all.
We have to give money. Repeat: we have to give money. Our community lags behind every other minority community in its percentage of charitable giving. Many of you do give, and you give generously. But many of you do not, and we need your help. And many of you give to national organizations - but you overlook the state organizations in your own backyards. This battle is in the states - please, get involved with your state equality group. You, too, can make history. In fact, together we will change the world.
For more information on the California campaign to protect marriage equality in November, visit Equality for All.
To get connected to the work in your state, visit www.equalityfederation.org.