It's clear which way the wind is blowing when it comes to marriage equality.
Most governors and attorneys general can plainly see that there's no point continuing an expensive, doomed-to-fail defense of marriage bans. Some, like Oregon's John Kitzhaber and Virginia's Terry McAuliffe, have been eager to align themselves with equality. Others, like Wyoming's Matt Mead, allowed marriage to begin with a hint of reluctant resignation.
But a few state officials aren't giving up their antigay litigation, despite having virtually no chance of success. It's hard to tell whether they actually believe that marriage discrimination is important enough to defend to the bitter end, or whether they're simply pandering to their base for politicial capital.
Groups like the National Organization for Marriage continue to insist that their defense of marriage bans could still be successful. "Until the Supreme Court decides it, this remains a viable option," NOM Chair John Eastman told reporters earlier this week. At this point, "viable option" is the most optimistic evaluation that antigay groups can make of their efforts.
Incidentally, each of the states listed below falls under the jurisdiction of one of the federal circuit courts that have ruled in favor of marriage equality — decisions that were made legally binding when the Supreme Court declined to review marriage cases out of five states earlier this month. Here's a closer look at those three states still defending marriage bans, and which elected officials are standing stalwart against equality:
Sam Brownback (pictured at right) has always positioned himself as an enemy of gay and lesbian families. He recently appeared at a rally hosted by the radically antigay Family Research Council, which has been designated an anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center since 2010. Prior to that, he spoke out emphatically against equality during a campaign stop, reminding supporters that "70 percent of Kansans voted to put in your constitution that marriage is the definition of a man and a woman."
During a recent debate, Brownback suggested that he would appoint judges who oppose marriage equality (even though the current marriage litigation will be heard by federal judges, not state judges).
Brownback is currently in a tough re-election campaign. His Democratic challenger, Rep. Paul Davis, is seven points ahead in a recent poll. Brownback has been cited as a rising star in the GOP, and as a possible future presidential contender. (He ran for president for a couple of seconds in 2007.) By next year when the presidential campaign is in full swing, we could have full national marriage equality, so his actions now could dramatically color any eventual national ambitions.
South Carolina: Governor Nikki Haley and Attorney General Alan Wilson
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley's been wrong on marriage before. She endorsed Mitt Romney for president only after checking his position on equality. "I asked him about family and he believes that marriage should be between a man and a woman," she said in 2012.
Attorney General Alan Wilson (pictured at right), a took a gentler approach, while still making his defense of the state's existing ban clear. "I’m the state’s attorney and the state is my client," he recently told reporters in the wake of a new federal suit aimed at compelling South Carolina to abide by the now-binding pro-equality decisions affirmed by the Supreme Court earlier this month. "And my job is to represent the state’s interest in every venue that exists until there are no more venues to represent the state."
Haley is also locked in a re-election campaign right now, but her chances are strong. Democratic rival Rep. Vincent Sheheen is trailing her by 20 points.
But her national profile has diminished over her first term as Governor. She's suffered a series of failures, ranging from a Department of Social Services scandal to leaked tax details. Persistent ugly and unsubstantiated rumors continue to plague Haley, and even though there's been no evidence to prove any of the inappropriate allegations, they could prove a liability if she was vetted as a presidential or vice presidential candidate.
There's not a lot of enthusiasm for defending Montana's marriage ban. Montana Department of Justice spokesman John Barnes told reporters that the state is only continuing the defense so that it will be prepared in the event that the U.S. Supreme Court eventually takes up one of the lawsuits out of Montana.
In fact, Governor Steve Bullock has long been a champion of equality, telling reporters, "the time has come for our state to recognize and celebrate — not discriminate against — two people who love one another, are committed to each other, and want to spend their lives together."
While Montana’s Democratic Governor has been an outspoken supporter of equality, the state’s Republican Attorney General Tim Fox (pictured at left) has dug his heels in to fight the overwhelming momentum toward embracing the freedom to marry.
Fox, who has the authority to defend the state’s voter-approved ban on marriage equality even when the governor has refused to do so, recently compared same-sex marriage to incest and polygamy, when he signed onto a brief opposing marriage equality in Nevada, reports the Salt Lake Tribune.
In his formal response to a federal lawsuit seeking marriage equality in Montana, Fox argued that the case should be dismissed, along with the equal protection claims of the four same-sex couples who filed suit with the American Civil Liberties Union. A federal court in Great Falls, Mont., has scheduled a herring for November 20 in that case, where U.S. District Judge Brian Morris will consider the plaintiffs’ request to rule on the case without going to trial, along with the state’s request to dismiss the case, reports the Billings Gazette.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article was may have given the impression that Montana Gov. Steve Bullock opposes marriage equality. He supports the freedom to marry, but Montana’s Republican Attorney General is continuing to defend the state’s existing antigay law. The story has been updated to clarify these details. The Advocate regrets this error.