Leading LGBT groups were planning for all contingencies that could have come out of Friday’s Supreme Court gay marriage decision. But just because the high court granted them a win doesn’t mean their work is over.
“There we will be a lot of work by a lot of different people to enforce a Supreme Court victory,” Camilla Taylor, Lambda Legal’s Marriage Project Director, told TPM earlier this week before the decision.
Their first task is to take a hard line on what Friday’s decision means, and insist that states where same-sex marriage was previously illegal begin granting marriage licenses to gay couples immediately.
“If we are fortunate enough to win, we are going to say — because it’s going to be true — the Supreme Court has declared what the Constitution means and the Constitution requires all states to let couples marry and that is something that is effective immediately,” James D. Esseks, director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & AIDS Project, told TPM before the decision. “All states are free to and should implement that, and make that a reality of couples in the state.”
Since the Supreme Court announced its decision Friday morning, the Human Rights Campaign has sent letters to state officials where gay marriage was previously illegal, pressing them not to delay enacting the ruling any longer.
While most attorneys general in states that fought to uphold their bans had previously conceded that a Supreme Court decision would be final, there continues to be active cases across the country to “facilitate an enforcement,” Taylor said. “Even where there are open cases, that’s not the only option for enforcement, so there may be new cases opened.”
But there are also concerns of resistance by local officials to granting gay couples marriage licenses and a chance of another Alabama scenario, where, after a federal court decision legalizing gay marriage in the state earlier this year, some probate judges refused to officiate marriages.
Some elected officials have promised they would not recognize a Supreme Court decision in favor of gay marriage and are vowing civil disobedience.
“It’s difficult to know how seriously to take those threats,” Taylor said. “What we know from past civil rights victories is that a Supreme Court direction no matter how big is never the end of the struggle.”
Freedom to Marry in conjunction with the four major groups involved in the case — Lambda Legal, the ACLU, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders — has launched a website to explain the court’s decision, and the groups are operating hotlines to answer questions. Those hotlines will also be useful to to monitor “any foot dragging or acting out on the part of a few officials in a few places,” as Freedom to Marry’s President Evan Wolfson told TPM earlier this week.
“If public officials resist enforcement of a Supreme Court victory, there are circumstance where they would be personally liable for damages and there could be criminal consequences in some states, like Texas,” Taylor said
Even before the Supreme Court came down with its decision Friday, gay marriage foes were signaling a more long-term approach to undermine such a ruling. The anti-gay marriage group National Organization for Marriage began passing around a petition asking lawmakers to push for a U.S. constitutional amendment limiting marriage to straight couples. In the previous spring alone, dozens of state proposals — such as Texas bill that would have barred local governments from granting or recognizing same-sex marriages — were introduced to undermine an anticipated Supreme Court decision, though only a few passed.
“We can anticipate seeing a lot more in the event of the victory,” Taylor said.
While most LGBT rights groups will continue to work on this and other issues that affect gays and lesbians — such as passing nondiscrimination measures — at least one of the country’s leading gay marriage groups plans on calling it a day once the dust settles from the Supreme Court decision.
Freedom to Marry to will begin a “smart strategic wind down over a period of months,” Wolfson said. “We will work with our colleagues in the movement and others to makes sure the lessons are captured and the materials are documented and archived and shared.”
But Freedom to Marry won’t close up shop before a “massive celebration” of Friday’s decision the group is planning for July 9.