At long last, one of the most basic but widely forbidden human rights — the right to marry a beloved, no matter the gender make-up of a couple — gets its due process in the nation’s highest court and comes out a winner.
The law of the land is now about love and belonging, not exclusion.
Isn’t love grand?
If the respect for same-sex couples who brought their life stories to the court, and the dignity with which the U.S. Supreme Court justices delivered their majority opinion, feels unreal — like “justice that arrives like a thunderbolt,” as President Obama called Friday’s historic ruling on marriage equality — it’s because the road has been protracted and hard-fought.
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You have to repeat it to believe it: Same-sex partners now have a constitutional right to marry all over the country. Marital unions are legal and equal for all, not only the privilege of heterosexuals. And although Florida was one of 36 states in which gay couples had already won in the courts the right to marry, the recalcitrant rest of the country must now accept marriage equality.
“This decision affirms what millions of Americans already believe in their hearts. When all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free,” President Obama said from the White House in a televised statement that capped off a week of tremendous social and cultural evolution. “Today, we can say in no uncertain terms that we’ve made our union a little more perfect.”
There’s no loftier pursuit of happiness than to fall in love, marry and form a family.
Yet the struggle of American gay couples to be treated with respect and to obtain the same legal benefits as heterosexual couples faced stumbling blocks at every turn. In Florida, the battle for gay rights was fiercely waged and lost in a referendum in the 1970s, although back then, the right to marry wasn’t even on the table. As late as 2008, the people of this state stubbornly refused in a referendum to legally recognize the union of their gay neighbors and friends, and it took persistent court action to make it happen.
Even President Obama, now a champion of gay marriage, was against it when he first ran for office.
His change of heart, he has explained, came as a result of his daughters’ questioning about why the gay parents of their friends should be treated differently from other parents. It’s difficult to retain a hand-me down prejudice when love, acceptance and inclusion are staring right at you at home.
The same thing was happening in many American homes, sweeping in change in public opinion, as six in 10 Americans told pollsters they believed that same-sex marriage should be legal.
The Supreme Court has finally settled the issue.
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodied the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion. “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.”
To think that same-sex couples disrespect marriage is to misunderstand them, Kennedy wrote: “Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment themselves.”
The landmark decision — the second major one in the past week — capped off a remarkable rush of cultural change that may have been decades in the making, but came to fruition fast, one after the other.
After a shocking massacre of African American church-goers and moving words of forgiveness from the families of the victims toward the racist killer, the Confederate flag, a symbol of support for slavery, came down the state capital grounds in Charleston and was taken off the shelves by some major retailers around the country.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court upheld a key part of the Affordable Care Act that provides federal health insurance subsidies to all Americans who qualify, including people who live in states like Florida that shun “Obamacare” and refuse to set up state-run marketplace exchanges.
The battle over same-sex marriage was one of those issues that made the United States seem out of step with its founding principles. More-progressive countries in the developed world, like Spain, for instance, legalized same-sex marriage 10 years ago. How could the cultural instigators of the sexual revolution and the free love movement have stopped equality in its tracks when it came to gay marriage?
For the most part, the opposition is due to religious conviction.
In Miami, the first negative reaction to the Supreme Court decision came in a statement from Catholic Archbishop Thomas Wenski, who predicted all kinds of evil on the family would be unleashed by this decision. The evangelicals didn’t waste any time either, and began cold-calling homes like mine after the decision was announced to “give you a message from the Bible.”
Leave God alone, I wanted to shout, he’s doing just fine.
But it’s also the right of the religious, as Justice Kennedy noted in his sensitive and thoughtful opinion, “to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.”
Let there be peace among us, I say.
Think of the youth bullied or shunned for who they are — and the support this decision brings to them. Think of all the gay couples who are friends and family — and the road they’ve traveled, same as that for any of us who take the marriage route, except for the bigotry outsiders brought into their world, if not their relationship.
May they live happily ever after in equal union in every state in the nation.
As long as there has been human life on the planet, love has turned mere mortals into poets, parents and partners in life. Now it has touched the highest-ranking judges in the land. Love finally swayed the U.S. Supreme Court’s majority, 5-4, to see the right to marry as a matter of fairness and justice.
“They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law,” Justice Kennedy wrote. “The Constitution grants them that right.”
Isn’t it life-affirming to see love come first?