LGBT advocates hope victories for gay marriage at the ballot box in several states Nov. 6 will help propel their movement forward.
An uptick in approval from Americans as whole, combined with the support of a re-elected president is seeding a cautious optimism among same-sex marriage advocates, but organizers say the path forward must be measured in order to prevent tipping the scales against them.
“The thrilling wins at the ballot on election night really moved the momentum forward but also built on the years of the persuasion and organizing,” Freedom to Marry founder Evan Wolfson told MSNBC.com.
Advocacy groups hope that battles won at the state and court level will snowball into enough uphill momentum to create action at the federal level. The hard-fought battle so far has led to nine states and the District of Columbia to allow same-sex couples to wed. Yet there are more than 30 states that have passed laws prohibiting same-sex marriage or civil unions.
“We always have to work through a patchwork of progress and stumbles while some states move forward faster than others,” Wolfson said. ”Somewhere in that mix you have enough of a critical mass in public opinion.”
Expectations are high in the LGBT community for the man who became the first president to endorse same-sex marriage, rolled back “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and refused to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which is a federal rule that prevents recognition of same-sex marriages.
“The first gay president” blarred one headline when President Obama backed the right to marriage for all.
“I think having the president of the United States supporting marriage equality is tremendous and sends an incredible signal,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign.
A record-high 5% of voters nationwide self-identified in exit polls as gay, lesbian or bisexual this election cycle, and an overwhelming 76% of them voted for President Obama.
“I believe he is fighting day-in-and-day-out for our rights,” said Wilson Cruz, strategic giving officer at GLAAD and an actor.
But in the afterglow of the elections, groups are holding back any criticism that the president is not doing enough to exercise his political muscle at the federal level.
Asked about GLADD’s expectations for the president on gay marriage going forward, Cruz said he could not speak to it but instead pointed to the Supreme Court and his hope it will “do what’s right.”
Supreme Court justices are to meet in a week to decide whether they will review six cases on gay rights that were brought before the court. Of those causes, four challenge the constitutionality of DOMA.
“The president has tremendous moral force which he has exhibited,” Columbia Law professor Suzanne Goldberg said. “He gives tremendous support and political cover to elected officials and possibly judges who are on the fence about marriage equality.”
The steady, and well-financed, stream of opposition have kept a check on the LGBT community’s progress—checks not likely dissuaded by an Obama second term.
“Our opponents and some in the media will attempt to portray the election results as a changing point in how Americans view gay marriage, but that is not the case,”said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, which lobbies against gay marrigae, in a statement. “Americans remain strongly in favor of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”
But according to a recent Pew Research Center poll, 48% of Americans approve of same-sex marriage, up from 31% in 2004. For Democrats, that number jumps to 65% supported same-sex marriage in the lead up to the election and younger voters are even more likely to approve of gay marriage.
“The victories at the ballot box show that we are in a new era when it comes to the public’s views about marriage equality, and that is the context in which the Supreme Court will decide to hear any or all of these cases,” said Goldberg. ”It is hard to imagine that the justices are paying no attention to the rapidly changing mood about marriage equality.”