On Wednesday, Gov. Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii signed a bill that will allow same-sex couples to marry in the state, starting Dec. 2. The measure, ending a two-decade legal and political battle, caps a remarkable year of progress toward ensuring the basic civil rights of gay Americans.
Before the election in November 2012, same-sex couples could marry in only six states. That election added three more states to the roll when Maine, Maryland and Washington approved same-sex marriage by a popular vote, the first states to do so. Counting Hawaii and the marriage equality bill that Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois plans to sign on Nov. 20, the number of states and the District of Columbia that have come to recognize the freedom to marry through legislation, court rulings or voter approval now stands at 16 compared with just nine a year ago.
The Supreme Court has also done much to make America a more hospitable environment for same-sex marriage, striking down the Defense of Marriage Act’s denial of federal benefits to married same-sex couples and nullifying Proposition 8, California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage. The justices stopped short of making marriage equality the law of the land, but it is not unusual for civil rights to advance in stages. Cases in the pipeline will provide the court with another chance to invalidate all remaining state restrictions preventing gay and lesbian Americans from marrying and denying full legal recognition of their relationship