For gay rights, focus now turns to 37 states

Watching coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act at the Stonewall Inn in New York June 26, 2013.
Watching coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act at the Stonewall Inn in New York June 26, 2013.
Brendan McDermid/Reuters

Even amid the celebration, “we know we’ve got to roll up our sleeves and get to work for those in the 37 states that didn’t get marriage equality today,” Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a very public conversation with President Obama on Wednesday. The two men spoke by phone as Griffin stood outside the Supreme Court just minutes after the court announced it had stuck down the Defense of Marriage Act and allowed same-sex marriage to resume in the state of California.

Calling from Air Force One, the president praised the plaintiffs in the California case–two couples–for their courage and said they were “helping out a whole lot of people everywhere.” But not all.

As Griffin noted, the decisions–one invalidating the 1996 DOMA law and one upholding a lower court decision preserving gay marriage in California–still say nothing for the bulk of the country. Married gay couples who don’t live in the District of Columbia and the 13 states with marriage equality can now expect to face some confusion over whether or not they qualify as legally married.

And marriage is just part of the patchwork of issues concerning LGBT residents, particularly in southern states, the Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara of the Campaign for Southern Equality, noted.

“We live in a region of the country that is not likely to adopt same-sex marriage on a state-by-state basis in the near future… Same-sex families living in the South lack basic legal protections, which result in harm and suffering,” she said in a statement on the twin rulings Wednesday.

Related: The odd couple that cleared the way for same-sex marriage in California

In an April interview, several gay couples living in red states described how they felt about the then-upcoming SCOTUS rulings and about leaving marriage equality up to the states. Most expressed a cautious optimism. But some said they routinely consider leaving their homes for blue states while others spoke of the need to dig in and fight for equality at home, whether that home is Jackson, Mississippi, Atlanta, or Austin.

“We can’t stay here if we’re not allowed to have all the rights of married folks,” Kristina Lestik, an Austin-based teacher told me when discussing her relationship with Kelly Wroblewski. The couple admitted to considering a move to the Pacific Northwest where same-sex marriage is legal in Washington.

“Getting out of Texas will be really hard,” said Wroblewski, saying that her mother lives nearby. “But it just seems inevitable.”

In a sign of just how important a state-by-state effort is for overturning laws discriminating against same-sex couples, the ACLU announced today it has hired Steve Schmidt, former campaign strategist for the McCain campaign, former Bush and Cheney staffer and msnbc political analyst.

“I’m very proud to be involved with the effort,” Schmidt told msnbc. “This is a hugely important issue. There’s a lot of hard work ahead.”

In hiring Schmidt, who was one of many Republicans who signed the 2013 amicus brief to the SCOTUS, the ACLU seems to be counting on his ability to sway conservatives.

While declining to discuss any specific strategies he’s considering for the ACLU post, Schmidt mentioned beginning in Northern states that may be more amenable to marriage equality.

Despite the narrow ruling or perhaps in spite of it, some LGBT groups in red states are planning to march for equality. In Columbia, South Carolina, the South Carolina Equality organization is planning a march to the state house on Wednesday evening.

“The results of the court’s ruling will signify if this will be a celebration march or a march to call for more equality,” the group wrote on its Facebook page.

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For gay rights, focus now turns to 37 states