Same-sex marriage inevitable? Not so fast

At a Sutherland Institute event in April 2011, Maggie Gallagher noted that victory in a war comes when one side believes it is no longer worth fighting. Thus, one of the most important arguments made by those who want to redefine marriage is that same-sex marriage is inevitable.

Of course, like the “inevitable” triumphs of Marxism, etc., the facts sometimes get in the way and advocates will need to push things along. So, lawsuits are filed in friendly courts to get marriage redefinition mandated, or sympathetic public officials change ballot titles to make voting for husband-wife marriage seem less palatable.

Inevitability is a prediction, or perhaps a veiled threat, so it can’t be tested prospectively. We can assess the likelihood this prediction will be fulfilled, though.

How does the inevitability argument hold up based on past experience? It’s a long shot.

As of this writing, federal law and the laws of 44 states define marriage as the union of a husband and wife. Thirty-one states even have amendments in their state constitutions, with the most recent being approved in North Carolina in May of this year.

On the other hand, six states have redefined marriage to include same-sex couples. Three did so by court order (Connecticut, Iowa and Connecticut) and three by legislative action (New Hampshire, New York and Vermont). The legislatures of Maryland and Washington have voted for same-sex marriage but these laws must be approved by voters before they go into effect. These are not necessarily stable numbers either. Three judges on the Iowa Supreme Court were not retained by voters because of their marriage decision and the retention of another will be voted on in November. That state’s legislature has only been prevented by one legislator from voting on an amendment to the state’s constitution to define marriage and reverse the court decision. Legislators in New York who had run promising to protect marriage and then switched to vote for redefinition have not fared well electorally. In 2010, the New Hampshire legislature switched to Republican control in the wake of the marriage redefinition bill (for the first time in over two decades), and that state may see another effort to reverse the same-sex marriage law.

In November, four more states will vote on marriage. In Maryland and Washington, voters will get to decide whether to reject those legislatures’ attempts to redefine marriage. Minnesota voters will decide whether to amend their state constitution to preserve the definition of marriage. Maine voters will weigh in on an initiative to redefine marriage.

Clearly the stakes in this coming election will be high for marriage. The outcome, however, is not in any way inevitable as long as supporters of marriage in every state step forward now.