Gay Marriage Hasn’t Won, but Its Opponents Have Lost

Time magazine was just one of several publications to declare the end of the same-sex marriage fight last week. It doesn’t feel that way to gay men and lesbians.

Time magazine was just one of several publications to declare the end of the same-sex marriage fight last week, with its cover headline "Gay Marriage Already Won." It doesn't feel that way to gay men and lesbians; unless the Supreme Court rules in our favor this summer, we will likely have to spend more than 20 years fighting to repeal provisions in 30 state constitutions before national marriage equality is achieved. Many of us will be dead, or at least old and unmarriageable, before then.

The more accurate statement is that foes of gay marriage have already lost. Opponents of gay marriage don't just want to deny equal rights to same-sex couples. They want to use that denial of rights to establish a social norm that holds out opposite-sex marriage as the right and best way to form a family. But overwhelming elite and (soon) mass opinion in favor of marriage equality have destroyed the norm-setting power of laws against same-sex marriage, even if those laws themselves prove durable.

This is sort of what Josh Marshall is getting at in his piece about the waning "right" to be anti-gay. Marshall focuses on the fact that gay marriage opponents find it unpleasant to be called out for their prejudices, and imagine a right against this. But social conservatives' complaints aren't just about hurt feelings. If it's impolite to even express the view that same-sex marriage should be illegal, then marriage inequality cannot be doing much to drive the norms they want to control.

And this is why it's daft to say that a legislative route to marriage equality would be better than a "divisive" court decision. Who is made better off by prolonging this situation through 20 years of miserable legislative and referendum fights?

Social conservatives have already lost the really important fight over social norms, and will just get smacked around for the next two decades, gradually losing legislative battles state by state as public opinion gets more overwhelming against their position. They will also be distracted from the more productive task of figuring out whether there is a plausible broader agenda for the promotion and strengthening of marriage.

And gays and lesbians will just be kept waiting, forced to fight state-by-state for equal rights at enormous emotional and financial cost.

Gay marriage hasn't already won; it faces a very long (and divisive!) road to legislative victory. If the Supreme Court establishes a right to marriage equality, then we can say that gay marriage already won -- but for now, everybody is losing.

(Josh Barro is lead writer for the Ticker. Follow him on Twitter.)

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.