Marriage Takes Center Stage in 2013

by Lisa Keen
Sunday Dec 29, 2013

Even before 2013 began, everyone knew what the big news story would be. The U.S. Supreme Court had, in December 2012, agreed to hear two high-profile marriage cases: One testing the right of the federal government to refuse equal benefits to same-sex married couples, and the other testing the right of a state to ban same-sex couples from marrying.

What no one knew for sure was how the court would rule. And speculation last December was all over the map. Even longtime court observers who routinely cautioned against predicting how the court might rule couldn’t resist speculating how the court might rule.

There was unprecedented media attention and public interest in the oral arguments, held on successive days in March. And then, on June 26, the court ruled, striking down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act and re-establishing marriage equality in California. The results were not everything the LGBT community wished for, but they were far more than many in the community expected to see in their lifetime.

Those two rulings alone made 2013 perhaps the "Best Year Ever for the LGBT Movement" toward equal rights in this country. Their impact was deep and wide, politically, symbolically, and literally. But there were other breathtaking developments - including the unexpected - that secured 2013 as the most successful year in the movement’s seven decades of organized struggle. Here are our picks:

No. 10: The Senate Gets Its First Openly Gay Member

Representative Tammy Baldwin (D), a seven-term congresswoman from Madison, Wisconsin, who embodied the polite, witty, but determined temperament of a Midwesterner, added another "first" to her already long list of accomplishments. Before January, she was already the first open lesbian elected to the Wisconsin Assembly, the first openly gay person elected to Congress, the first out lesbian in the House, and the first woman elected to Congress from Wisconsin. After being sworn in to the 113th session, she became Wisconsin’s first woman senator and the Senate’s first openly gay member. Her colleagues praised her diplomacy in the successful effort to get the Employment Non-Discrimination Act approved by the Senate and she became the first rookie senator to win the Senate’s Golden Gavel Award for having presided over the chamber’s activities for more than 100 hours.

No. 9: Congress Gets Its Largest-Ever LGBT Caucus

Not only was Baldwin in the Senate, as of the start of the 113th Congress, there were six openly LGBT members in the House of Representatives, and by year’s end, there was seven. Prior to 2013, the LGBT Caucus numbered four and, with the retirement of Representative Barney Frank at the end of 2012, it looked like it might dwindle to three: Baldwin and Congressmen Jared Polis (D-Colorado) and David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island). But fresh off newcomer victories in November 2012, the four new openly LGBT reps were sworn in: Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona), Mark Takano (D-California), Sean Maloney (D-New York), and Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin). And, in November, Representative Mike Michaud (D-Maine) came out in an op-ed to ward off a whisper campaign by his opponents in the 2014 Maine gubernatorial race. The caucus size doubled to eight over the previous high.

No. 8: The Senate Passes ENDA for the First Time

The Senate had voted on the ENDA once before in the bill’s nearly four decades as the LGBT movement’s flagship piece of legislation. In that first tally, taken in 1996, it lost by one vote. This year, it passed 64-32, and only one senator spoke against it (longtime gay civil rights opponent Dan Coats, a Republican from Indiana). A Republican-dominated House gives the bill virtually no chance to even reach the floor there, but passage in the Senate signaled that a new and friendlier political landscape had been established in LGBT civil rights.

No. 7: Obama’s Second Inaugural Promotes Equality

He had already "evolved" to the point where he stated publicly, in May 2012, that he supports the right of same-sex couples to marry. And while LGBT leaders always hope a major presidential address will at least mention LGBT people when identifying the nation’s strength in diversity, no one had expected President Barack Obama to go beyond that in his second inaugural.

But he went much further: "We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths - that all of us are created equal - is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall. ... Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law - for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well."


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