A Supreme decision on gay marriage
In three majority opinions spanning 12 years, Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy gave dignity to the lives of lesbians and gay men. His rulings respected their struggle for full inclusion in the American Dream and opened its doors to them. And with each successive decision, Kennedy presented the aspirations of gay and lesbian Americans not as a claim to special rights, but to equal rights.
Even more remarkable is when those decisions were handed down. Lawrence v.
Texas, which threw out sodomy laws that criminalized consensual homosexual relations, was decided on June 26, 2003.
United States v. Windsor, which invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act, was decided on June 26, 2013. When that ruling was handed down, same-sex marriage was deemed legal in just 12 states and the District. That number stood at 37 states Friday morning. At 10:01 a.m., marriage equality swept from sea to shining sea. In his 28-page majority opinion in
Obergefell v. Hodges, Kennedy made our nation more whole, more free, more equal, more just.
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family,” Kennedy wrote. “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.”
Those words are an exclamation point on the joy rippling across the nation. The Supreme Court caught up with a nation that has signaled for years that it supported the right of same-sex couples to marry. A nation that has witnessed a breathtaking and positive sea change in its overall support for equal protection under the law of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans. This is not the United States that saw the FBI launch a “sex deviates” program in the 1950s to rid the federal government of gay people. This is not the United States that saw a federal official declare gay men “uniquely nasty.” Thank God.
But work remains to be done. Same-sex couples in 28 states can marry on Sunday and lose their jobs, homes and children on Monday. The Supreme Court decision doesn’t address that. Eliminating the sting of discrimination for LGBT Americans is the next fight. A fight made more possible to win thanks to Friday’s landmark ruling. Thanks to Justice Kennedy.