Many articles have already discussed the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision. In that opinion, the Supreme Court held that individuals who are same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry just as individuals who are different-sex couples. Basing its decision on the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Court held that states could not deny same-sex couples that right. Instead of the numerous scholarly works analyzing the Obergefell decision, this essay looks back at my part in the marriage equality movement, before it was a movement and before it was about marriage, and its transition to both. I have been working toward obtaining legal rights for same-sex couples since 1983. My work began when I helped draft what became the third domestic partnership ordinance in the country in Madison, Wisconsin, and my work will continue into early 2016 when my service as the chair of the board of directors for Freedom to Marry, Inc. will end. Over the past three decades, I played a small but regular role in helping to end the exclusion of same-sex couples from legal recognition of our relationships in the United States. This essay considers how my experiences as an activist, scholar, and married lesbian mirrored those of the movement since the early 1980s. The essay is divided into three parts that roughly correspond with the three decades of the marriage equality movement: the early 1980s to 1993, 1993 to 2003, and 2003 to 2015. Part I discusses the early efforts to win limited rights through city ordinances and employer health insurance benefits and how those efforts led activists to recognize the inherent limitations with the options to protect the legal rights of same-sex couples. Part II discusses the legal changes that resulted in the decade following the Hawaii Supreme Court’s decision in Baehr v. Lewin; changes not marriage itself, but numerous statutes and constitutional amendments purporting to deny recognition of any Hawaiian or other marriage by same-sex couples. Part III focuses its attention on the movement after the first state started marrying same-sex couples, the ups-and-downs resulting from the adoption or rejection of anti-marriage ballot measures by states across the country, and the national resolution that finally came with the Obergefell decision.
California Western Law Review, Vol. 52, 2015