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A marriage battle that’s far from over

In the wake of the landmark Supreme Court rulings striking down a key part of the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act and returning marriage equality to California, there are now two Americas for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. In the District of Columbia and 13 states – including California – full legal equality is nearly a reality. In the other 37 states, however, even the most basic protections are still out of reach.

The hundreds of federal rights, benefits and obligations of marriage were not extended to legally married gay and lesbian couples because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Gay people living just miles apart lead dramatically different lives if a state border divides them. Now that DOMA has been wiped away, this fundamental inequality is clearer than ever. As Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion, no law can stand when its “principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal.”

But here’s the catch: Only legally married couples living in states with marriage equality are entitled to full recognition and the federal rights, benefits and responsibilities that come with it. Couples who married in, say, Iowa or New York but moved to a state that doesn’t recognize their marriage are likely to get only some federal benefits. And unmarried couples who live in states without marriage equality still cannot marry and, therefore, can’t access any federal benefits. As Rachel Maddow put it, the rights of legally married gay and lesbian couples “fade in and out like cell phone service” as they travel.

There is a simple solution to this inequality: marriage equality in all 50 states – now.

DOMA and California’s Proposition 8 never should have been passed. But now that they’ve been struck down, we need to fix the mess they’ve left behind. Anything less than full equality in all 50 states is an injustice.

(Chad Griffin is president of Human Rights Campaign and co-founder of the American Foundation of Equal Rights, which sought to overturn Proposition 8.)

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