Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Marriage equality is unstoppable

By Sally Kohn
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue June 3, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sally Kohn: It's almost a year since the Supreme Court struck down DOMA
  • Kohn: Marriage equality is an important movement toward fairness and justice for all
  • She says despite progress, there is still discrimination against gays and lesbians
  • Kohn: There is no turning back, with most Americans supporting same-sex marriage

Editor's note: Sally Kohn is a progressive activist, columnist and television commentator. Follow her on Twitter @sallykohn. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- In its ruling in Windsor v. United States, the Supreme Court paved the way for states and the federal government to legally recognize the marriages of same-sex couples. As we near the one-year anniversary of that historic decision, here's a look back at the history of marriage equality, how we got here, and where the fight for equality still has to go.

In the beginning, there was Adam and Steve...

OK, that's not exactly true. I don't know; I wasn't there personally. But we do know that gay coupling has been around for a long time. Around 350 B.C., in "The Symposium," Plato said there should be an army composed of same-sex lovers. In fact, there was such an army: the Sacred Band of Thebes. They were renowned for their valor and frequent victories.

Sally Kohn
Sally Kohn

Fast forward a bit: In 1972, just five years after the United States Supreme Court overturned anti-miscegenation laws that barred interracial marriages, the Supreme Court dismissed a case brought by two men who were denied a marriage license in Minnesota. A year later, Maryland became the first state to pass a law explicitly banning marriage between same-sex couples. And so we enter the dark era of explicit attacks and prohibitions on same-sex marriage equality.

It went downhill for a while. In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act, banning federal recognition of same-sex marriages and authorizing one state to not recognize a same-sex marriage performed in another state, even though the Constitution requires states to honor each other's laws. Anyway, 35 states adopted laws defining marriage as solely between a man and a woman, with 26 of those states putting that discrimination in their constitutions.

You with me so far? Meanwhile, in the midst of all these anti-gay marriage laws still being adopted, in 2004 a judge in Massachusetts ruled that it was unconstitutional under the state constitution to allow only opposite-sex couples to marry. Four years later, the California and Connecticut Supreme Courts made similar rulings. A year later, in 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court did the same. That same year, Vermont and Maine become the first states to legislatively enact marriage equality.

Voters, legislatures and courts kept wrestling with the issue. But in 2012, a majority of voters in Maine, Maryland and the state of Washington passed marriage equality ballot measures, and voters in Minnesota struck down a constitutional amendment that would restrict the state's definition of marriage.

It's as if the new century brought a new day for gay couples. And there was no turning back.

Same-sex parent families: Share your story

Today, 19 states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex couples the freedom to marry. In an additional 11 states, judges have ruled in favor of marriage equality but the cases are tied up in appeals. Fully 3/5 of our country is now firmly on the side of equality and fairness, as are the American people. In 1996 when Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, only 27% of Americans supported same-sex marriage. Today, 55% of Americans think same-sex marriages should be fully recognized, valid and equal. Among 18- to 29-year-olds, 78% support marriage equality. And those numbers are steadily growing, even among conservatives.

Does marriage equality fix every problem facing the gay community? Heck, no. In 29 states, lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans can still be fired from their jobs based solely on their sexual orientation. In 33 states, transgender Americans can be fired based solely on their gender identity. We still don't even have a federal law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Gay men in America earn 10% to 32% less than similarly qualified straight men working in the same occupations. Transgender men and women are both more likely to be the victims of violent crime and more likely to be incarcerated. In some states, same-sex couples are discriminated against in the ability to adopt children.

Being able to get married and be as happy — or miserable — as married straight couples in America doesn't make other issues of anti-gay discrimination go away. But marriage equality is a big and important movement toward fairness and justice for all — a movement that is, at this point, unstoppable.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
updated 12:23 AM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:54 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT