Friday, December 20, 2013

Walter White, sure, but the Osmonds?

Note: Blue states have marriage equality, green states have civil unions or domestic partnerships

Yesterday, the New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously ruled that its ban on gay marriages was unconstitutional.  The Land of Enchantment thus became the 17th state with full marriage equality. Barely 24 hours later, a federal district judge ruled that Utah's ban on same-sex marriages was unconstitutional.

As of this writing, marriage equality is the law of the land in the Beehive State.  Utah's attorney general has said the state will appeal and the district court's ruling could be stayed pending that appeal as early as Monday.  But the first gay couples were able to marry on Friday afternoon. The mayor of Salt Lake City even conducted a few wedding ceremonies, including one between a Utah state senator and his new husband.

Gay marriage in the home of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was once unthinkable.  And it might not still be the law in 72 hours.  But for now, the Honorable Robert J. Shelby, an Obama appointee, has wreaked a little welcome havoc on my marriage equality chart:  

Until this afternoon, the single best predictor of the legal status of gay relationships was the result of the last Presidential election. The whole country could be broken down into 3 tiers:

  1. Full marriage equality in all 14 jurisdictions where the President got at least 55% of the vote.
  2. A combination of equality or other recognition in eight of his next best 10 states.
  3. A complete lockout in the remaining 27 states.
My thesis for all of these posts has been that the march towards marriage equality has mirrored the democratic process.  That's not strictly true anymore.  Last year, Barack Obama gained just 25 percent of the vote against the first ever Mormon presidential nominee.  (In 2008, Utah was his second worst state, with 34% of the vote against Episcopalian John McCain, slightly worse than the 32% he got in Wyoming.)  Utah is now a quintessential outlier.  

This aberration might go away on Monday.  And the appeal might ultimately succeed.  But this decision is consistent with a related long term political trend.  Judge Shelby has been on the bench for less than a year.  He was born in 1970.  That's quite young for a federal judge. He'll have this job for as long as he wants it.  And more than likely, at some point, five Supreme Court justices will make marriage equality the law of all 50 states.  It is a matter of when.  And by the time there's a Gen-X majority on that bench, this issue will be ancient history.

Update:  Huffington Post has the following nuggets or Judge Shelby:  "He was appointed by President Barack Obama after GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch recommended him in November 2011.
Shelby served in the Utah Army National Guard from 1988 to 1996 and was a combat engineer in Operation Desert Storm." 

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