It’s been a long fight, but that day is finally here. June 26, 2015 will be an indelible date that will join other notable decisions of the past like May 17, 1954 (Brown vs BOE) and Dec 12, 2000 (Bush v. Gore) and so many others that fundamentally reshaped the country. Sometimes for the better like Brown and sometimes for the worse like the Bush decision.
I never thought I’d see it in my lifetime, but here it is! Good going, SCOTUS! Well at least five of you. Four Justices actually decided to be on the wrong side of history and will join the ranks of their predecessors who voted against civil rights or giving women the right to vote in past decades and centuries. The dissenters were, as you might expect, the more conservative justices: Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, and Alito. When they are but dust in the ground they will be remembered solely for this one decision where they chose to vote against love and equality.
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were,” Kennedy wrote. “As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death.”
Kennedy went on to speak directly to the type of criticism that often comes from conservatives in pushing back against marriage equality.
“It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves,” Kennedy said. “Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
In the dissenting opinion Roberts wrote that same-sex marriage is very nice and all, but that states should individually decide whether to accept it:
Although the policy arguments for extending marriage to same-sex couples may be compelling, the legal arguments for requiring such an extension are not. The fundamental right to marry does not include a right to make a State change its definition of marriage. And a State’s decision to maintain the meaning of marriage that has persisted in every culture throughout human history can hardly be called irrational. In short, our Constitution does not enact any one theory of marriage. The people of a State are free to expand marriage to include same-sex couples, or to retain the historic definition.
The Supreme Court made a lot of news this week. First they said the Affordable Care Act is for all intents and purposes here to stay. Now they just affirmed that same-sex couples have the constitutional right to marry. This was a big week for SCOTUS and I am sure they made a few enemies among the Republicans. But behind closed doors many of these same Republicans would likely tell you they are secretly happy about these decisions. They didn’t want to to have to deal with either ACA or same sex marriage in the 2016 elections and they know the poll numbers a well as anyone.
The Supreme Court is still a largely conservative court and in our history as a country always have been. You could make a strong case that the Supreme Court tends to be a decade or more behind the times on many social issues. They eventually get it right, but sometimes there is a long delay before they catch up to the country as a whole.
The case of gay marriage is the latest example. As even many Latin American countries legalized same sex marriage long before the United States, we have finally said as a country that all men and women no matter who they choose to love have the right to marry that person. A February CBS News poll showed that 60 percent of Americans said it should be legal for same-sex couples to marry.
This ruling means that same-sex couples are entitled to same state benefits that all married couples receive, in every state. But the fight for equality isn’t over in the same way the fights for civil rights or against racism wasn’t over after Brown vs Board of Education. In many states (29 total) including here in Georgia they can legally fire an otherwise exemplary employee simply because they are gay. You could be the best worker in your company but if your boss is a homophobe he has the right to fire you.
A proposed federal law called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act would provide protections for all LGBT Americans working for employers with at least 15 employees. It’s been introduced in nearly every Congress since 1994, but has been blocked by Republicans each and every time.
So although the marriage equality ruling is great news and a cause for jubilation the fight for equality isn’t over. I am sure there will be a lot of weddings in the coming hours and days though and I send my congratulations to all of you. But after you return from your Honeymoons, remember there is still much left to do in this fight. Until legal protections are in place that prevents a person from being fired solely because they are gay, we still have work undone.
It’s a great day, albeit shamefully overdue. Although someone should look in on the hugely dramatic Texas pastor who promised to literally light himself on fire if gay marriage was legalized.
Cue the collective homophobic breakdown in 3, 2, 1….