2013

10 July 2013: Gays now ride the marriage equality bus

Gays now ride the marriage equality bus

In striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, the Supreme Court struck a blow for justice.  In so doing, it validated a group of people, akin to what Brown v. Topeka Board of Education in 1954 did for racial minorities and Roe V. Wade for women in 1973.  Monumental.  Earth-shaking.  Colossal.

The decision affirms the dignity of gays and lesbians by stating that when it comes to riding the marriage equality bus, they need not slink to the back.  The federal government must accord same-sex married couples all 1,137 benefits opposite-sex couples enjoy.  Further, with the “full faith and credit” clause of the Constitution kicking in, it seems states that do neither recognize nor allow same-sex marriage—e.g., Colorado—must honor those performed in other states.

If that is the case, Justice Antonin Scalia is correct when he argues this decision lays the foundation for a future ruling that will enshrine marriage as an essential American civil right.  In other words, Colorado’s prohibition against same-sex marriage would be unconstitutional because it violates the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.

Besides, it’s absurd for a state to deny its citizens the right to marry but at the same time recognize those from other states and even countries, the effect of which would put in place a two-tiered, double-standard, a huge no-no in American jurisprudence.

In writing for the majority, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy says, “DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal.”  That falls in line with the historic evolution of protecting the right of people to marry.

George Chauncey, a Yale professor of American studies, points out that the marriage movement was “always about more than legal benefits.”

“Historically,” he says, “denial of marriage rights has been a powerful symbol of people’s exclusion from full citizenship. Enslaved people in America did not have the right to marry before the Civil War; Jews did not have the right to marry non-Jews in Nazi Germany.”

In the Article 16:1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations listed the freedom to marry among the various fundamental human rights.

“Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.”

It doesn’t say marriage needs to be between opposite people.

For whom, then, does the bell toll?  The definition of marriage, not marriage itself.

Same-sex marriage will be universal, to be sure, but when that happens, history shows it will not cleanse society of antagonism towards it, nor will it halt attempts to restrict it.  Two cases in point: the right to vote and a woman’s right to control her own body.

In ruling the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional although it apparently it once was—thus affirming the Constitution is not a static, but living document—the Supreme Court sided with states’ rights, Jim Crow champions.  Chief Justice John Roberts insists “things have changed dramatically.”  Perhaps, but, as Charles M. Blow notes in the New York Times, so have tactics by officials to deny minorities their right to vote.

Colorado secretary of state Scott Gessler has resorted to such tactics.  While not overtly racial, the veneer of his actions is quite thin.

Texas is the site of the latest attack on women’s rights.  Instead of going after the medical procedure directly, fundamentalist legislators try ends-around by throwing up all kinds of barriers, such as requiring doctors performing abortions to be on a local hospital’s staff.

Their attempts are transparent and even seen as laughable but only if one find dark humor in obscene attempts to demean and dehumanize fellow human and citizens by denying them their essential civil and human rights.

So while the decision to outlaw DOMA is welcome, exciting, and even makes one giddy, it’s critical to keep in mind one Supreme Court decision will not change peoples’ attitudes.  Only education and effective modeling can.  Those are what have propelled the issue of same-sex marriage to the forefront and acceptability to the majority of Americans in such a short period.  While the majority is offended by double-standards, that will not stop the vocal minority to employ every trick in the book, even dirty ones, to undercut the process.

So, let’s enjoy the moment and even celebrate, but know also the assault on freedom and human dignity is incessant.  Accordingly, we must be ever vigilant.

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