Marriage!

The best of our history is the advance, sometimes hindered or delayed, of full rights to people and groups who have been ignored, disrespected, and even hated. Today's decision is another great milestone on that advance. I couldn't have said it more beautifully than Justice Kennedy:
 
“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. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. 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. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, exclude from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The constitution grants them that right.”
 
 
I'm a justice of the peace, and if you ask me to perform your wedding you can expect to hear some of Justice Kennedy's words as part of the ceremony.
 
All day people have been celebrating the decision, and rightly so. I don't think I can say anything more or better about it than what has already been said.
 
I do want to talk, though, about the dissenters. You know their evil names: Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito. We always knew they were going to be the dissenters if it came to this. They shroud their arguments in the claim that there is something special about marriage, or there is something special and unique about the Court's interfering in state marriage laws, or there is something unusually offensive about an unelected group of lawyers who went to Harvard or Yale making important decisions for our country.
 
But if you think about it, a pattern begins to emerge. There haven't been that many major gay rights cases decided by the Supreme Court and justices have life tenure and tend to stick around for a long time, so we can look at these decisions and see what we can learn.
 
In 1986 the Court decided Bowers v. Hardwick, a decision upholding a Georgia anti-sodomy law. None of today's dissenters were on the court, but the majority included their intellectual forebears, Rehnquist and Burger. 
 
That decision didn't last long, because in 2003 the Court reversed it in Lawrence v. Texas, overturning an essentially identical law. The dissenters, the guys who wanted to keep gay sex illegal? Scalia, Rehnquist, and Thomas. 
 
We also had Romer v. Evans, Justice Kennedy's first big gay rights decision. The law challenged in Romer was particularly vicious, a state constitutional amendment prohibiting the state or its political subdivisions from outlawing discrimination against gays. Justice Kennedy surprised everybody, but he was eloquent, stating 
“that the amendment seems inexplicable by anything but animus toward the class that it affects; it lacks a rational relationship to legitimate state interests.” “[L]aws singling out a certain class of citizens for disfavored legal status or general hardships are rare. A law declaring that in general it shall be more difficult for one group of citizens than for all others to seek aid from the government is itself a denial of equal protection of the laws in the most literal sense.”

 
” Amendment 2 classifies homosexuals not to further a proper legislative end but to make them unequal to everyone else. This Colorado cannot do. A State cannot so deem a class of persons a stranger to its laws.” 
 
 The dissenters? Scalia, Rehnquist, and Thomas. 
  

We can move forward in time again, to United States v. Windsor exactly two years before Friday's decision, when, in another Kennedy decision, the Court held that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional. In dissent again: Roberts, Thomas, Scalia, and Alito.

  And now it's back to today, and today's landmark decision. The dissenters again, in ever more extreme, emotional language: Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito.

What they demonstrate, both by their abandonment of any pretense of legal reasoning for pure vitriol, and by their consistency, is that what offends them is not any legal or jurisprudential principle, not any concern for the role of the courts or the balance between state and federal laws. No. They just can't tolerate any limitation on what can be done to gay people. Whether it's the threat of criminal prosecution in Lawrence, the unequal application of state antidiscrimination laws in Romer, or the unfair and unequal application of federal estate tax laws in Windsor, these guys are forever on guard to make sure that lesbians and gays can never be full members of society.

 That's what was at issue today, and the culminating (though perhaps not final) achievement of full acceptance of our lesbian and gay friends, coworkers, and family members is as inevitable as it is sweet. 

Oh yes, and one last thing: it's not “gay marriage” or “same-sex marriage” anymore. “Marriage” works just fine. 

2 thoughts on “Marriage!

  1. the JP to ask “if not husband and wife, what shall we say in the ceremony?” and it is often funny how the couple begins to fumble with the formality of their lack of consideration of the terms.    “It’s just us” is prevalent, but “do you take xxx to be the other half of US” is somewhat less than artful.  

    I see a JP Facebook page being created to share the new language of marriage for the Southern folks who have less than a wealth of experience… once again, Vermont can lead the way.

    Good synopsis Jack…  Is a valid reason for impeachment being SO out of touch with the evolution of the Constitution in the face of tolerance from the folks it purportedly governs?  

    I still remember those  “Impeach Earl Warren” signs from traveling South to Florida in my younger days.   Too bad liberals are so adverse to herding to a common point of protest.  Maybe we could get something done.

    Now, lets all go out and rally behind the great symbol of representation of the common person, Hillary Clinton for President.    Pfffft!!!   Yeaaaa NAFTA

  2. Who’d have thought a few years ago that the thorny issue of marriage equality would end so abruptly and so soon.

    It was a rare good day for common sense and simple humanity.

    Now, can we talk about the ERA, which has been twisting in the wind for some forty years?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *