Marriage Equality Wins

June 29, 2015

I was late to work on Friday. Not because I couldn’t find a taxi, or the dogs were lagging on their morning walk. In fact, I had already started working around 8:30 a.m. on my patio—pot of coffee made, laptop open, responding to e-mails. But I couldn’t leave for work just yet. Like the hundreds of thousands of other folks who were testing the limits of SCOTUSblog.com’s servers, I was Marriage Equalitywaiting for Lyle Denniston, veteran journalist who’s covered the Supreme Court for 57 years, to deliver the news.

On June 26, 2003, the Supreme Court handed down the landmark Lawrence v. Texas decision, which struck down sodomy laws that criminalized same-sex sexual activity. Ten years later, on June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in United States v. Windsor, where Justice Kennedy wrote that the Defense of Marriage Act “is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.” It was only appropriate, then, that the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, as to whether the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed “marriage equality”[1] should also come down on June 26.

I was optimistic, but wanted to avoid being in commute in case Justice Kennedy’s swing vote went the other way. It didn’t:

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, 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.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

It is so ordered.

Marriage equality wins.

A few years ago, I was asked a very simple question by an acquaintance of mine. “Why do you—a straight woman—care about gay marriage? Whether or not the gays can get married doesn’t impact your life.”

It’s true that I cannot speak to the experience of being gay. I didn’t have to go all the way up to the Supreme Court to ask that I be listed on my deceased husband’s death certificate (like James Obergefell). I didn’t have to ask that the Court validate my marriage so that I could be recognized as the mother of my own children (like April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse). I haven’t had the status of any of my relationships challenged whenever I crossed state lines (like Army Reserve Sergeant First Class Ijpe DeKoe and his partner Thomas Kostura). And I wasn’t teased and ridiculed in my adolescence for liking boys (like my brother).

But—spoken like a true plaintiffs’ attorney—it’s not difficult to recognize unfairness. And denying basic liberties and freedoms to a group of people who want their unions to be recognized or start a family (instead of being treated like second-class citizens because of an immutable human characteristic) is not only fundamentally unfair—it’s a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

 

Photo Credit: Robert Couse-Baker

Footnote:

[1] Specifically, the two questions considered by the Court were: 1) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex? 2) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?

 


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