Number Of States Allowing Gay Marriage Expected To Grow

More than 38 percent of the U.S. population lives in a state in which same-sex marriage is legal. That's a much more revealing number than the figure usually discussed: 18 states plus Washington D.C. In the coming years, that number is expected to increase dramatically.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

As we approach the end of 2013, we've been looking at numbers that tell the story of this year in different ways. Today's number: 38. That's the percentage of Americans who live in a state where same-sex marriage is now legal. Supporters of same-sex marriage say that percentage is likely to grow dramatically in just a few more years. NPR's Richard Gonzalez reports.

RICHARD GONZALEZ, BYLINE: When the history of the legal and political battle over same-sex marriage is written, this will likely go down as the banner year.

KATE KENDALL: 2013 was the tipping-point year for marriage for same-sex couples.

GONZALEZ: Kate Kendall is executive director of the San Francisco Bay's National Center for Lesbian Rights.

KENDALL: 2013 created this cascade where state after state, it almost, you know, there seemed to be sort of a joke as I travelled around the country saying if you blink, you're going to miss a state that becomes the next state to recognize marriage for same-sex couples.

GONZALEZ: At the beginning of the year, gay marriage was legal in only eight states and the District of Columbia, covering just under 14 percent of the population. By the end of this year, that 14 percent has jumped to 38 percent.

NED FLAHERTY: So the biggest single-year jump ever was 2013.

GONZALEZ: That's Ned Flaherty, projects manager for Marriage Equality USA. In 2013, gay marriage was legalized in nine states, starting with Maryland and followed by Delaware, California, Minnesota, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Hawaii, Illinois and New Mexico. In a 10th state, Utah, a federal judge declared that state's ban unconstitutional and marriages are happening even as the state seeks to appeal. Ned Flaherty.

FLAHERTY: What happened in '13 was really the culmination of about 20 years' worth of work nationwide, not only in the states that achieved equality, but in a lot of other states as well that are now poised to reap that benefit in the near future.

GONZALEZ: Nevada might be another battleground state in 2014. There's a lawsuit brought by eight same-sex couples challenging their state's ban. One of those couples is Mikyla and Katrina Miller, who invited us into their home in Reno, Nevada.

KATRINA MILLER: We're looking at our domestic partnership license in California, our marriage license in California, and our domestic partnership in Nevada.

GONZALEZ: Mikyla and Katrina were married in California but live in Nevada so Katrina could pursue her doctorate in English. They knew their marriage would not be recognized by the state, and that became a problem in their day-to-day lives, like when they had a child.

MILLER: Once our daughter was born, we had to go through a second-parent adoption for me to have legal rights of her, so that was one extra step, an extra expense we went through to have that, you know, security that would've come with having a fully recognized and equal marriage.

GONZALEZ: Their lawsuit will be heard next year by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of appeals, a panel already sympathetic with same-sex marriage. But going through the courts to legalize same-sex marriage infuriates opponents like Janine Hansen of the conservative Nevada Families For Freedom. She says judges are bypassing the will of the people on this issue.

She's also not optimistic about maintaining Nevada's ban on same-sex marriage because her group is having trouble raising money. Is it easy to raise money to fight these people now?

JANINE HANSEN: You mean to fight to keep our marriage law?

GONZALEZ: Correct, yes.

HANSEN: Far as I know, there's no money being raised.

GONZALEZ: Right.

HANSEN: I don't know of any organized effort. I haven't heard anything.

GONZALEZ: Even in bedrock conservative states such as Idaho, the issue is hot. A lawsuit filed there by four lesbian couples challenges that state's ban. One couple, Rachel Robertson and Amber Bierele, live in Boise and have been together for three years.

AMBER BIERELE: We are both native Idahoans and so we represent Idaho in every way possible, really.

GONZALEZ: Amber is a devout Christian. Rachel served five years in the National Guard and came under fire in Iraq. They both say their families support their relationship and their lawsuit and they think attitudes around the state are changing too. Rachel Robertson.

RACHEL ROBERTSON: I'm just saying that it has grown, just people's frame on minds and opinions and acceptance on this matter has grown like crazy.

GONZALEZ: And with that acceptance, momentum for marriage equality has grown as well. Richard Gonzalez, NPR News.

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