While it may not be surprising that the definition of marriage in the United States is slowly evolving state by state, what might surprise you is who is advocating for marriage equality in this country. Prior to the recent November election, gay marriage was legal in six states and the District of Columbia, while civil unions were recognized in five states. Following the election, three more states approved gay marriage, and Minnesota voters defeated a ballot measure that would have defined marriage as between one man and one woman. The decision in Minnesota was due in large part to the efforts of the parents of a soldier killed in war.
Lori and Jeff Wilfarht lost their son Andrew when he died fighting for his country in Afghanistan. Andrew was an openly gay soldier who loved his country and died defending its Constitution, yet his parents have been haunted by the thought that he might have been killed defending those who openly discriminated against him. So when their home state proposed a constitutional ban on gay marriage, the Wilfarhts took action, and tirelessly advocated for its defeat by speaking at any venue that would welcome them, including schools, churches, and even book clubs. Their dedication paid off: “Never before had a state rejected a constitutional amendment to prevent gays from marrying. Minnesota did just that, in part spurred by the Wilfahrts’ activism” (CNN).
History was also made in Maryland, Washington, and Maine, where for the first time gay marriage was approved by voters at the polls, and not through legislative efforts. This election also brought change to Congress with the election of the first openly lesbian senator and first openly bisexual representative (ABC news). What remains to be seen is if the changing face of America will have any influence whatsoever on the Supreme Court’s upcoming cases concerning marriage equality, including one addressing California’s passage of Proposition 8, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman. Other cases to be addressed by the court include several that challenge the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
Change is coming, but sometimes that process is painfully slow. There are still 32 states with constitutional amendments banning same sex marriage. Yet families like the Wilfarhts remain hopeful. After the votes in Minnesota were tallied, Andrew’s mother Lori reflected on what the amendment’s defeat would have meant to Andrew: “His life was very meaningful, and I feel like now in death, there is meaning in that, too. Before, it would have been our grief to bear as a family and that would have been it. Now, his name is out there and he will be associated with a movement and a change, and I think that’s quite a legacy” (CNN).