Ten years ago attorney Ruth Harlow successfully argued the landmark Lawrence v. Texas case before the U.S. Supreme Court, which invalidated 13 state laws banning consensual gay sex.
After Wednesday's court rulings in United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry, Harlow told U.S. News she expects gay couples will be able to legally marry in all 50 states within the next 10 years.
Justice Antonin Scalia, who predicted a decade ago that legalizing gay sex would lead to same-sex marriage, among other things, "is an amazingly good predictor of the future," Harlow said.
But, she said, "forecasting the future in a very animated and panicked way misapprehends what is happening here," critiquing Scalia's 2003 and 2013 dissents. "He seems to think that the court is leading the country... but it's the other way around, the country is leading the court."
Harlow isn't sure if legislative action or court challenges will flip the 37 states that do not currently offer marriage rights to gay couples, but she's confident all 50 states will grant same-sex marriage sometime "in the next 10 years, which is incredibly fast for civil liberties."
The veteran attorney said the outcome of each case decided Wednesday was positive, despite the results not going as far as some activists hoped.
"Clearly the tactical decision to challenge DOMA at this time was correct," Harlow said. "Perry generated a lot of educational value, [but was] a little ahead of the curve in terms of what the court wanted to take up," she said, referring to the Supreme Court's decision to allow California's Proposition 8 gay marriage ban to be overturned without broader national implications.
Harlow said section 2 of DOMA, which allows states to refuse recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states, "is vulnerable to a successful challenge," but "probably won't be the vehicle" for legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.
One conceivable way to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide is through the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA. The bill is unlikely to pass in the current Republican-led House, but wholesale repeal of the 1996 law would likely force states to honor same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions. State-level political and legal efforts could also drive the change.
Harlow served as lead counsel in the Lawrence case as the legal director of Lambda Legal, a group that provides resources and representation in support of LGBT causes. She currently works as a partner at the law firm Pepper Hamilton.