MARRIAGE-EQUALITY ADVOCATES READY TO GO ON OFFENSE

Although President Barack Obama did not call for any action to bring about legal same-sex marriage, his announcement of support has been taken as a battle cry among those who are working toward that goal. It comes as a welcome boost at a moment when the charge to codify "traditional marriage" may be giving way to a drive to expand that definition.

To use a football analogy, Team Anti-Marriage have had the ball for nearly 10 years. This may be the moment when Team Pro-Marriage sends their offense onto the turf.

Since the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in favor of same-sex matrimony in November 2003, the issue has been dominated by the opposition. Well-funded ballot initiatives defining marriage as between one man and one woman have gone to the voters — and passed — in more than half the states in America.

Just last week, the day before Obama announced his support for marriage equality, yet another state's voters opted to put a ban on same-sex marriage in their constitution.

That North Carolina vote, and others coming this November in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington, might end up being among the final plays of the anti-marriage forces' offensive drive. In coming years, it will most often be pro-marriage advocates carrying the ball forward.

That's the cautious hope of Marc Solomon, who fought for same-sex marriage in Massachusetts as executive director of MassEquality, and is now national campaign director for Freedom To Marry.

In fact, this year's Maine ballot measure was initiated by pro-marriage advocates, to undo a vote from three years ago. "In Maine, our side is playing offense," says Lee Swislow, executive director of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD).

The change in direction comes partly because the other side has nearly reached the end zone. Same-sex marriage has been banned in federal law, and in almost every state outside the most liberal bastions of the Northeast and West Coast.

But it's also because same-sex marriage now has a strong network of activists, attorneys, and funders — very wealthy funders — ready to fight.

"I am certainly hoping North Carolina is the last battle we'll have to fight without enough conversation, and without the groundwork we need in a state," Solomon says.

It will also be the last one fought without Obama's support. That could prove particularly helpful in the four states voting on marriage later this year — all of which Obama is likely to win. Victories there could, in turn, rejuvenate efforts elsewhere.

One set of these battles is in the courts.

That includes a challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), brought by Massachusetts couples and widows. Represented by GLAD, they have already won in District Court, which ruled that DOMA unconstitutionally deprives same-sex couples of equal protection, by denying them federal benefits received by other spouses.

Other court cases are pushing back at the state level — most importantly in California. A successful challenge led by Freedom To Marry — argued by a bipartisan team of David Boies and Ted Olson — found the state's voter-approved ban unconstitutional; it has been upheld through the Circuit Court of Appeals and is heading to the US Supreme Court.

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