When President Barack Obama decided not to attend the Sochi Olympics, and also appointed three openly gay athletes to the official American delegation, it was a public rebuke of President Vladimir Putin’s anti-homosexual measures. Yet it’s the U.S.—particularly in the conservative South and West—that will be the real battleground for same-sex rights this winter. More than 30 states have high legal battlements to fend off gay marriage, including constitutional bans, and a maze of conflicting local, state and federal laws now govern everything from pension benefits to hospital visits and immigration rights.
Same-sex marriage advocates are focusing their attention on more than 40 legal challenges to state bans. Some walls are already cracking under the strain. On Dec. 19, New Mexico’s supreme court unanimously ruled to allow same-sex marriage. The next day, a federal judge in Utah struck down its ban. Republican Gov. Gary Herbert vowed to appeal, while criticizing “an activist federal judge attempting to override the will of the people of Utah.” One thing is certain: the U.S. fight over same-sex rights will be as hard fought and as difficult as any Olympic event.