Marcos German-Dominguez, right, waves a flag at a rally on March 26 in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. The high court will hear arguments on California's Proposition 8, the controversial ballot initiative that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
(CBS NEWS) -- In the past year, the push for gay rights has made remarkable
progress: Dozens of elected officials have expressed support for
same-sex marriage, a handful of states have passed marriage equality
laws and public support for the issue continues to grow.
push for gay rights has been decades in the making, but the campaign
for marriage equality gained true momentum one year ago, when President
Obama made history by becoming the first sitting president to support same-sex marriage.
need people in our country who have the power to change policies and
improve people's lives like President Obama... not only for marriage
equality but other equality issues," Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, co-director
of the gay rights organization GetEQUAL, told CBSNews.com. "We also we
need to be able to change the culture -- laws can change, but there's
the everlasting work of changing hearts and minds."
Activists make the case the president helped on both fronts.
it comes to policy, "I think that the president has both talked the
talk and walked the walk," said Michael Cole-Schwartz, communications
director for the gay rights organization the Human Rights Campaign. "He
has made LGBT issues a priority and we're quite pleased with what he's
been able to deliver."
Mr. Obama signed into law the
repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy prohibiting gays
and lesbians from serving openly in the military, and he's supported
regulatory changes such as granting hospital visitation rights to
In the Supreme Court this year, the Obama administration refused to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal law defining marriage as between a man and a woman. The administration also argued in the Supreme Court against California's same-sex marriage ban.
Mr. Obama helped prove that backing same-sex marriage wasn't a toxic
position, it also gained momentum at the state level: In November 2012,
Maine, Maryland and Washington became the first states to pass ballot initiatives approving of same-sex marriage. In the last two weeks, Rhode Island and Delaware became the 10th and 11th states to legalize same-sex marriage, and more are expected to soon follow their lead.
fight for gay rights, however, doesn't end with marriage equality.
Activists are pushing for the president and members of Congress to
support two amendments
to the Senate's immigration bill introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy,
D-Vt., which would give same-sex couples similar immigration rights as
opposite-sex couples. So far the White House, hesitant to disrupt the
congressional debate over the immigration bill, hasn't taken a position
on any amendments.
Additionally, gay rights activists
are pushing for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which
would federally prohibit discrimination against employees on the basis
of sexual orientation or gender identity. Currently, 29 states lack
sexual orientation non-discrimination laws, and 34 states lack gender
identity non-discrimination laws.
"We're definitely grateful he came out for marriage and for federal
equality," Sousa-Rodriguez said, "but we're still asking him to use his
power and political clout" to push for those issues.
the political debate evolves, so does public opinion. Since Mr. Obama
announced his support for same-sex marriage, public sentiment has
notably reversed: In May 2012, just after his announcement, a slight
majority of Americans said in a CBS News poll that same-sex marriage
should not be legal. But in the most recent CBS News polling on the issue, conducted in March 2013, 53 percent of Americans said it should be legal, and just 39 percent said it shouldn't.
way the president explained his evolution on marriage equality is
something a number of other Americans could identify with,"
Cole-Schwartz said. "The way he articulated that gave people the space
to go on that same journey themselves."
When he announced
his support, Mr. Obama said, "I have to tell you that over the course
of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors
when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly
committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are
raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or
marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel
constrained, even now that 'don't ask, don't tell' is gone, because they
are not able to commit themselves in a marriage -- at a certain point
I've just concluded that for me, personally, it is important for me to
go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get
Before making that announcement, the president had said his position was "evolving."
CBS News' polling suggests that many Americans have found their own opinions "evolving."
the March 2013 poll, among those who said same-sex marriage should be
legal, a third said they previously didn't believe that. When asked why
they changed their minds, as many as 17 percent said they are simply
more tolerant now. Another 17 percent said they are more educated, 20
percent attributed it to knowing someone who is gay or lesbian and 12
percent said it is the "modern way" of thinking about the issue.
Obama's change of heart -- and the language with which he chose to
explain it -- also proved to be the model for several other politicians.
Other leaders said they were "evolving" on the issue, with more than a dozen senators
coming out in support of same-sex marriage this year. There are now 54
senators and 185 members of the House of Representatives who support
same-sex marriage, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
of the support has come from the president's party, which is taking
full advantage of the fast-growing support for gay rights. Jason
Collins, the NBA player who recently came out of the closet, will be headlining a Democratic fundraiser
with First Lady Michelle Obama later this month. Still, Sousa-Rodriguez
said he's optimistic about the "traction" he sees among Republicans.
"They're on the wrong side of history, and that's very clear now," he said.