It was a 5-4 decision for same-sex marriage, but don’t be fooled by the close vote. This is not a country divided. This is a country evolving.
You could look at any poll as evidence for that. But this ruling is not about polls. It’s about human rights, about civil rights, about fundamental rights, about the right (which couldn’t be more fundamental) to marry the person you love.
This is the ruling for which Justice Anthony Kennedy, the hero of the day, will be long remembered, the finding that gays have the same right to marry as straight people. When you see a change that dramatic, you shouldn’t be surprised that the dissents from the holdouts are so angry.
It is pretty much a given that no social issue has ever turned so quickly, or so unexpectedly, as gay rights and the trail to same-sex marriage. And if how this came to be remains up for debate — and will no doubt be studied for years — the fact of it is not. It happened, and the Supreme Court had no choice but to catch up. If the same vote were taken 10 years from now, it would likely be unanimous. If the same vote were taken 10 years ago, well, it wouldn’t have been taken. In 2008, there was too much political risk for Barack Obama to even say he favored same-sex marriage. Instead, he had to suggest he was “evolving.”
So, don’t worry about Mike Huckabee’s talk of “tyranny.” Or Scott Walker’s pandering call for a constitutional amendment to overturn the court’s ruling. Huckabee says that only the “Supreme Being” — not the Supreme Court — can decide these things. Well, so far, corporations are people, but Supreme Beings can’t register to vote.[pullquote]It’s about human rights, about civil rights, about fundamental rights, about the right (which couldn’t be more fundamental) to marry the person you love.[/pullquote]
John Roberts, the man who saved Obamacare, said it may be a great day for gay rights but it was a terrible day for the Constitution. I don’t know if there’s a constitutional right to dignity. But I know something about equal treatment under the law and about the protection of the rights of minorities.
Roberts said that this right, unlike so many others, should be a matter of popular vote. Antonin Scalia, because he’s Antonin Scalia, went so far as to say that a decision by the Court’s “select, patrician, highly unrepresentative panel of nine” violates “a principle even more fundamental than no taxation without representation: no social transformation without representation.”
How far off can this be? How out of touch can this be? Well, you’ll see just how out of touch.
Kennedy’s role as the swing vote has been central to every advance by the Court on gay rights. You know this because he was held up for particular ridicule by Scalia in his dissent. But just who was the joke on?
To figure it out, all you had to do was read Scalia’s unintentionally hilarious line in which he mocked the constitutional reading of a freedom of spirituality by writing “Ask a hippie.” As the resident long-haired columnist (see photo above), I can attest that Scalia is about 40 years out of touch, sort of like my hairstyle. Maybe Scalia should ask a hipster.
Of course, Scalia also wrote about putting a bag over his head, and, I guess, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to put that up for a vote.
For the next months, or at least until the end of the GOP primary season, you’ll hear a lot about protecting the rights of those who object to same-sex marriage for religious reasons. In Alabama, a few counties have decided not to do any marriages so they don’t have to comply with the law. Which is why it’s Alabama. In Texas, the attorney general said “no law” would change the fundamentals of marriage. Which is why it’s Texas.
And while I certainly have sympathy for arguments of conscience, I’m a little skeptical of this one. Most of the same people who oppose gay marriage also argued against gays serving openly in the military and serving as Boy Scout leaders and, for that matter, living in civil unions. Is this really about marriage or is it about, say, Ken Buck once comparing gays to alcoholics?
Here’s a test. Ask yourself if county clerks should really be permitted to deny gay couples a marriage license as a matter of conscience. Then ask yourself if it’s OK for a public school teacher to recuse himself from teaching gay students as a matter of conscience.
The old argument that same-sex marriage will destroy the institution of marriage is a tired one that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. The argument that marriage is somehow an unchanging institution has been refuted. If anything, conservatives should be encouraged that so many people are suddenly discussing the value of marriage.
The timeless truth is that the world changes. Not all the change is good. But when it advances the cause of equality, that’s a time for celebration.
Of course, it’s entirely up to each person to celebrate as you please. You can read Scalia. Or you can check out the Tweeted celebratory wedding photo of George Harris, 82, and Jack Evans, 85, the first same-sex couple to be married in Dallas. They’ve been together for 54 years. And now, and only now, is it legal for them to get, well, legal.
Photo credit: Purple Sherbet Equality, Creative Commons, Flickr.