I am short on time right now so I’ll refer readers to Ari Ezra Waldman’s excellent piece at Towleroad.
The general consensus seems to be that the court rendered a relatively narrow verdict. My instincts tell me, however, that even if the sole effect is to strike down Prop 8 and allow same sex couples to marry in California, it’s still a big deal. The nation’s most populous state, what happens in California will effect other states and the Federal government.
Same sex marriage is a big deal once it becomes established law in California, California has nearly 38 million residents. States in which same sex couples can marry (soon to include Washington by all appearances) would account for nearly 80 million residents (38 mill in CA, 20 mill in NY, 6.8 mill in WA, 6.6 mill in MA, 3 mill in Iowa, 3.6 mill in Connecticut, 1.3 mill in NH, 600k in Vermont). Add in the Civil Union states of Illinois and New Jersey and you’ve got another 20 million people (there are other states that allow civil unions). Broadly, we’re seeing a move in which more and more Americans live in states in which same sex relationships are granted legal status. The logic of the yesterday’s ruling suggests to me we’ll see more states that allow civil unions or domestic partnerships move toward marriage simply because there’s no rational reason to deny marriage if you grant something that is marriage in all but name.
At some point, the Federal Government will have to move on this issue and with a huge number of Americans accepting same sex couples and living in states that grant legal recognition to same sex relationships, I doubt the Federal level will hold the line against same sex marriage. DOMA will most likely be struck down (testimony in favor of it certainly betrayed animus toward gay people); at a minimum, the federal government will have to recognize same sex couple are legally married and treat them equally with heterosexual couples.
Marriage equality is fast approaching a tipping point (though we may in fact be past that tipping point as surveys have shown slim majorities favoring gay marriage; for a long time sizable majorities have favored some sort of legal recognition of gay couples). Conservatives are going to man the barricades. We’ll hear screaming about activist courts. We’ll no doubt hear daffy talk of stripping courts of the ability to rule on anything having to do with marriage. But, American culture has moved on this issue and is moving faster and faster.