Supporters of marriage equality will be on tenterhooks until June, when the Supreme Court is expected to decide on two cases: one challenging the constitutionality of Proposition 8, California's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, and the other challenging the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal marriage benefits to legally married gay couples.
We hope the Supreme Court will affirm the rulings of lower-court judges who have reversed both of these discriminatory laws. A decision upholding state-sponsored discrimination against gays and lesbians would be viewed widely as the Dred Scott ruling of our time.
But whatever the decision, the court of public opinion soon will render it moot. The trajectory of changing attitudes on same sex marriage is inexorably headed toward full acceptance and legal status.
The trend is clear in California, where 52 percent of voters supported Proposition 8 just four years ago. In a May survey, 54 percent said they now support legal same-sex marriage, while just 40 percent were opposed. Even if the Supreme Court upholds the ban, voters here will overturn it themselves before long and join the nine states that now allow gays and lesbians to marry.
Nationally, 49 percent of respondents to an October Pew poll said they supported legalizing gay marriage, while 40 percent said they were opposed. That is essentially the reverse of poll numbers four years earlier. And the reason is obvious. Young people overwhelmingly support equality: An October Gallup poll found three-quarters of 18- to 29-year-olds in favor. Even in the conservative South, a more accepting younger generation eventually will overtake the old guard, even if it takes a bit longer.
Testimony in the Proposition 8 trial two years ago exposed the emptiness of the arguments against same-sex marriage. Supporters of the proposition presented just two witnesses, neither of whom could offer a shred of credible evidence that preventing gays from marrying promotes any legitimate state interest.
David Boies, the lead lawyer on the team seeking to strike down the gay marriage ban, explained the predicament faced by his opponents: "They didn't fail because they're bad lawyers; they failed because there isn't any evidence to support the argument they're advocating."
That's the reality in both cases the Supreme Court will hear in the coming months.
It will be far better for the country if the high court comes down on the side of equal rights in a way that settles the matter quickly and cleanly and allows divisions on social issues to begin to heal. But the battle for marriage equality has been won. Now it's just a matter of how the war will end.