GWEN IFILL: New Jersey became the latest state to legalize gay marriage today, but it’s not the only state taking matrimonial matters into its own hands.
Ray Suarez has that.
RAY SUAREZ: Same-sex couples married by Newark Mayor and senator-elect Cory Booker in the Garden State were met with some welcome news as they exchanged nuptials. Gov. Chris Christie’s move, dropping the appeal, makes New Jersey the 14th state to allow gay marriage, along with the District of Columbia; 35 states have laws or constitutional amendments in place to restrict same-sex marriage.
Joining me now to outline what’s happening is David Crary. He reports on social issues and policies as a national writer at the Associated Press.
And, David, all along, Chris Christie said he was going to pursue this appeal. He said he preferred that either the legislature or the voters of New Jersey change the law. Did it surprise people that he dropped his opposition?
DAVID CRARY, Associated Press: I think it was only surprising, Ray, the speed with which he did it. It was clear that he decided this was going to be a losing effort on his part. The Supreme Court of New Jersey was pretty clear how it would have ruled eventually.
So, very quickly, he said: I’m going to drop the fight. We will have same-sex marriage here in New Jersey.
RAY SUAREZ: The attention was on New Jersey today, but is this really a struggle that’s now in multiple venues on multiple fronts? Where is the action?
DAVID CRARY: It’s all over the place, Ray.
I think there are at least 13 other states that have active pending lawsuits over same-sex marriage now. Some could be resolved fairly quickly. Some are likely to drag on into next year. There’s also action in some state legislatures, Illinois in particular. There’s also efforts to get this issue onto the ballot in 2014 in states like Oregon. So it’s a multifaceted, multistate thing that could play out very quickly within a year or two.
RAY SUAREZ: But, looking at the calendar, who are the — who are the next batters up? Where is action really very close to having to be taken?
DAVID CRARY: New Mexico, Ray, there’s going to be a hearing in the state Supreme Court this week, unless they change their plans.
And New Mexico’s a fascinating state because it’s the only state with no law specifically legalizing same-sex marriage or outlawing it. It’s kind of a gray area. Eight of the 33 counties have started issuing same-sex marriage licenses. The others have not.
The state Supreme Court is being asked to try to sort out that very fascinating situation. And that could start this week.
RAY SUAREZ: New Mexico is one of only — one of a handful of states where county officials have taken matters into their own hands, citing the Supreme Court decisions of the last term as their basis for doing so, in defiance of their own state laws. Has this changed the battle?
DAVID CRARY: Well, that is happening in Pennsylvania, in North Carolina, in New Mexico.
What it’s doing is kind of, I think, again, speeding up the process. It’s forcing the state supreme courts to realize they’re going to have to step in sooner, rather than later and kind of reconcile this inconsistency from county to county. So it’s a very interesting situation, these acts of local defiance that are going to speed up the statewide process.
RAY SUAREZ: Are they even expanding the map, taking the battle to places that are really not expected as hotbeds of this social question? I read that a lawsuit is moving ahead in Tennessee.
DAVID CRARY: Tennessee filed just today. Arkansas has a lawsuit. There are two rival lawsuits seeking marriage rights in Virginia.
So it is absolutely expanding the map. I think the goal is to get as many states as possible into this marriage camp, and then go back to the U.S. Supreme Court within a year, two years, and say, look, this is now the norm in the U.S. and much — it’s not a few liberal states, and have the Supreme Court reconsider the issue.
And that’s going to happen, I think. It’s a question of how soon.
RAY SUAREZ: With New Jersey joining the list, about one-third of all American citizens live in a state where gay marriage is allowed. Is it pretty much going to reach a sort of equilibrium point, where those states with constitutional amendments or specific bans pretty much stay in that column, and the ones that seem open to it or have it in process pretty much stay in that column? Are we reaching stasis in this battle?
DAVID CRARY: Yes, I think we are.
I think, for example, Illinois is likely to join the same-sex marriage ranks as a populous state. Hawaii, Oregon are likely. So we could get close to that sort of half the country this, half the country that. And at that point, there’s going to be pressure on the Supreme Court, U.S. Supreme Court, to say to itself, as they did with interracial marriage, we can’t really have a country permanently with two systems of marriage.
So, at some point, there’s going to be pressure on the high court to figure that they are going to have to have a uniform marriage law for this divided country.
RAY SUAREZ: Quickly, why can’t we have two marriage laws, two marriage regimes across the country? Is that not sustainable over time?
DAVID CRARY: I think a lot of legal experts would say it’s not sustainable over time.
We’re a very mobile country. People move from one state to another. Companies have branch offices in different states. So we’re making due with that split system now. I think — long-term, I don’t think it would last in perpetuity.
RAY SUAREZ: David Crary of the Associated Press, thanks for joining us.
DAVID CRARY: Thank you, Ray.