These Are the Next Gay-Marriage Battlegrounds

Breaking down the fight for gay marriage in the U.S.

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A wave of lawsuits have been filed in courts around the nation since the Supreme Court in June overturned much of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s ban on same-sex marriage. The rulings effectively opened the floodgates to what has been a gradual push for marriage equality.

“The more people are winning, the more people are stepping up and wanting to become involved and move forward after,” says Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry. “The more we make it real — the more places gay people share in the freedom to marry — the more people see with their own eyes families helped and no one hurt.” 

(MORE: Hawaii Senate Passes Gay Marriage Bill)

On Aug. 1, Minnesota and Rhode Island became the 12th and 13th states to allow gay marriage. New Jersey followed suit on Oct. 21, after a judge overturned the state’s ban and Governor Chris Christie dropped his appeal of the ruling. That means same-sex marriage is now legal in 14 states and Washington, D.C. Illinois is set to become the 15th state to approve gay marriage after lawmakers passed a bill on Nov. 5 and Governor Pat Quinn is expected to sign it into law on Nov. 20.

So who’s next? Here’s TIME’s guide to the states most likely to legalize gay marriage in the months ahead.

Hawaii: Any Day Now
Hawaii’s house of representatives approved a bill to legalize gay marriage on Nov. 8, and the state senate will address it this week. Approval is a given — they already passed a similar bill and only need to vote again because of an amendment to the house version. Governor Neil Abercrombie is expected to quickly sign the measure into law — which could potentially leapfrog Hawaii ahead of Illinois in the history books. Whenever that happens, many Hawaiians will have reason to celebrate: 5.1% of the population identifies as LGBT, a higher proportion than any other state with same-sex marriage legislation pending, according to Gallup. (Washington, D.C., where gay marriage is already legal, has the highest proportion of LGBT residents.)

This will bring Hawaii full circle in some ways. The state supreme court ruled 20 years ago that Hawaii’s statute limiting marriage to heterosexual couples was discriminatory and unconstitutional. But in 1998, voters in Hawaii voted for an amendment to limit marriage licenses to same-sex couples. “Hawaii legalizing same-sex marriage will bring an end to a 20-year ordeal,” Wolfson said.

New Mexico: Possibly in Time for a New Year’s Eve Kiss
This Southwest state is the only one in the nation without a law that explicitly allows or bans same-sex marriage. That may soon change. The New Mexico supreme court heard oral arguments on the topic Oct. 23 and is expected to issue a ruling soon, likely before the end of the year. Currently, eight New Mexico counties allow gay couples to marry. More than 900 people have filed for licenses since clerks in those counties started issuing them in the past few months. Two New Mexico judges have upheld same-sex marriage under provisions of the state constitution, giving supporters reason for optimism.

(MORE: Pride and Prejudice: An Interactive Timeline of the Fight for Gay Rights)

But if the state’s high court does rule in favor, the fight may not be over. Some state Republicans are creating a plan to strike back by pursing a statewide constitutional referendum to ban the unions. “I think the most important thing here is no matter what [the court’s] decision is, the issue will not be settled until the people speak,” state senator Bill Sharer, a Republican who opposes gay marriage, told the Albuquerque Journal.

Oregon: Wait Until Next Election
The Beaver State has a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, though it does recognize ones licensed by other states. The progay marriage organization Oregon United for Marriage is currently collecting signatures to get a referendum overturning that ban on the 2014 ballot.

If that happens, a majority of Oregonians are likely to back it. A poll late last year from Democratic firm Public Policy Polling found that 54% of Oregonians would vote in favor of same-sex marriage.

Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Nevada, Utah: Targeting 2016
Activists are hoping to see measures passed or court cases end in their favor in this mix of states by the end of the next presidential election cycle. Though the swing states Ohio and Pennsylvania seem less likely to move than the more liberal coastal states, same-sex marriage is gaining traction in the Midwest. “They used to say you could only win in the coast, not in the heartland,” Wolfson said. “But we’ve won in Minnesota and Iowa. With Illinois, we have 37% of American people living in a freedom-to-marry state, including states in the heartland with more to come.”

Virginia: Tell It to the Judge
Same-sex marriage has been banned in Virginia since 2006, and Old Dominion also doesn’t recognize licenses from other states. But the lawyers who helped to overturn California’s ban in the high-profile U.S. Supreme Court case — David Boies and Ted Olson — agreed to represent two gay men who were denied a marriage license in Norfolk Circuit Court. Having their heft behind, the case has supporters optimistic that Virginia could become the first Southern state to legalize gay marriage.

Newly elected governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, supports same-sex marriage and a majority of Virginians support a repeal of the state’s ban, according to a Washington Post poll in May. In the poll, 56% of likely voters opposed the ban, while 33% were in favor.

North Carolina: Pressing the Issue
The Tar Heel State voted last year for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, which passed with 61% of the vote. Lawsuits challenging the ban have been filed, but some government officials aren’t waiting on the courts. Buncombe County Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger accepted applications for marriage licenses from gay couples because he said he was moved by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on DOMA. He was eventually stopped by the state’s attorney general. But support for gay marriage in the state is on the rise: a poll released in September from North Carolina–based Elon University found that 43% of North Carolinians back it, a 5% increase in seven months.

(MORE: Illinois Lawmakers Approve Gay Marriage)

Mississippi, Texas, Tennessee: Not Anytime Soon
Many cases are pending in the Deep South, but it will likely be a few more election cycles before any significant changes are made in these states. In Mississippi, lawyers for a woman who is suing the state in order to divorce her wife (whom she married legally in California) have tried to reassure citizens that they are merely trying to allow gay couples married elsewhere to split, rather than seeking a backdoor to gay marriage in the state.

Same-sex-marriage advocates cite a Human Rights Campaign poll this year, which found that 58% of Mississippi residents under 30 favor gay marriage, as evidence that attitudes in the state are changing. Legislation, however, remains a long shot in the short term.

MORE: Historic Wedding Bells Ring for First Two Men Married at West Point

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