When Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed a marriage equality bill Tuesday, with a stroke of his pen he granted long-sought rights to an estimated 155,995 LGBT Americans who have watched as 11 other states led the way. Minnesota is the 12th U.S. state — and Washington, D.C. — to embrace marriage equality, and that has direct consequences for hundreds of thousands who can now marry the person the love.
Minnesota activists are admired for successfully elevating the stories of gay and lesbian citizens, and for making votes a personal referendum on whether everyone deserves love and a demonstration of their commitment. But it’s sometimes lost just how many people’s lives are changing in a month like May — when a parade of states have legalized same-sex marriage.
More than 2 million LGBT people can now proclaim that they reside in states where they can marry the person they love. In sum, approximately 18% of American citizens currently live in states with equal marriage rights.
According to The Advocate’s estimate, that percentage results in a staggering 2,131,045 LGBT people living in states where they are afforded the freedom to marry. Our calculations aren’t hard science, but are gleaned from U.S. Census population data in each state with marriage equality, compared with data from a 2012 Gallup poll conducted with the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, which gauged the percentage of self-identified LGBT adults in each state.
If there were any doubts about the unstoppable momentum for marriage equality in the U.S., news reports from the month of May should put them to rest. Since May 1, governments in France and New Zealand enacted marriage equality, with a court in Brazil putting it in play there, as well.
May 2013 might well go down in history as a tipping point month for marriage stateside. In the first half of the month alone, three states legalized marriage equality: Rhode Island on May 2, Delaware on May 7, and Minnesota May 14. With Rhode Island, that now means all of New England welcomes gay nuptials. Adding the proverbial separate-but-unequal cherry on top, same-sex couples in Colorado began receiving civil union licenses May 1.
Advocates in Illinois are waiting with bated breath as marriage equality legislation sits in the House, awaiting Republican members to step forward in support and ensure the legislation’s successful passage. The Senate approved the bill on Valentine’s Day, and Illinois governor Pat Quinn recently begged the House to bring the measure to his desk so he can sign it before the end of the legislative session May 31.
What’s more, there’s reason to anticipate further progress in the coming months. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected by legal observers to issue a ruling on the Proposition 8 case in June, and unless the court wholly reverses the decisions made by several lower courts, Prop. 8 is headed to the dustbin of history. Even if SCOTUS takes no action on Perry v. Hollingsworth, lower court rulings declaring the voter-approved revocation of same-sex marriage unconstitutional will stand, and marriage equality could return to California immediately. If that happens, more than 1.5 million additional LGBT people will suddenly reside in a state with marriage equality. And as the most heavily populated state in the union, if (or when) California reinstates marriage equality, 30% of Americans would live in states with equal marriage rights.
But what’s the use of knowing these numbers, aside from encouraging the ever-growing pro-equality majority?
“For many public policy purposes, you really don’t count unless you’re counted,” says Gary Gates, a demographer and Williams Distinguished Scholar at UCLA who led the institute’s efforts to find out how many self-identified LGBT adults live in the U.S. “So I think there’s utility in having estimates, for the purpose of visibility — and to say that this is in fact a group in your state, in your congressional district.”