Published June 26, 2013
The preservation of explicit inequality in the law is hard to defend and maintain. Gravity, not to mention logic, pulls toward fairness. And our institutions, including the Constitution of the United States of America, lend gravity a hand.
Wednesday, the Supreme Court correctly ruled that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act violates the Constitution and our nation's principles of equal treatment under the law. The ruling, which is as legally correct as it is morally correct, reinforces our nation's real traditional values of fairness and equality for all.
In a 5-4 ruling in United States v. Windsor, Justice Kennedy on behalf of the majority, wrote decisively, that “DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.”
More specifically, Kennedy writes that the very notion of DOMA -- through which the federal government denied recognition of same-sex marriages performed by the states for no reason other than explicit discrimination -- was a violation of state's rights.
By seeking to injure the very class New York seeks to protect, DOMA violates basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the federal government.
The Constitution’s guarantee of equality “must at the very least mean that a bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot” justify disparate treatment of that group.
In other words, the ruling marries legal principles barring unjust discrimination with the conservative theory of federalism -- that the federal government should not interfere with the power of the states to set their own laws and policies.
In the case of conceal carry permits and electoral gerrymandering, conservatives want the federal government to show incredible deference to the acts of states.
Yet when states decide to permit loving same-sex couples to get married under the law, suddenly conservatives want the federal government to step in.
Not only is this flagrantly discriminatory, it's a violation of our Constitutional guarantee of equal protection.
Today, gay couples and all of us who believe in equality and fairness will celebrate. And tomorrow, gay couples will marry. And then more will get married. And then more. And civilization, we shall see, will survive.
Those of us who live in New York and Iowa and Massachusetts and Washington and other states that have legalized gay marriage have already found that the warnings of the demise of opposite-sex marriage were dramatically inflated.
Rest assured, all: Heteronormativity remains firmly intact.
The only thing that Wednesday's Supreme Court ruling will change is that now same-sex couples who choose to marry when allowed to do so by their states will have the same access to the over 1,000 federal rights and benefits as heterosexual couples.
Unfortunately, every other problem with which we as a nation grapple will still exist.
- We will still have discrimination.
- Gay people can still be fired from their jobs in 29 states simply because of our sexual orientation.
- Women will still be paid less than men for the same jobs.
- Domestic violence will still be a too rampant reality in far too many homes.
- Poor children will still lack access to a high quality education.
The only difference is that happy gay couples will now be happy married couples, equally protected under the law. This is a dramatic ruling for these couples and for the assertion of our fundamental legal principles and rights. But it will be strikingly un-dramatic in how our nation is affected.
The pull toward fairness in society is hardly inevitable. The abolition of slavery in America and the granting of basic legal rights to African Americans and women only came through struggle, through ordinary Americans pressuring our institutions and legal structures to yield to the gravitational pull of righteousness.
Slowly but surely, history has bent toward justice because we, the people, ultimately bend toward justice. A strong majority of Americans now support marriage equality. As we evolve, so must our laws and policies.
Wednesday's Supreme Court ruling marks an important strong turn in that arc of human history. In the majority ruling, Kennedy writes:
DOMA undermines both the public and private significance of state-sanctioned same-sex marriages; for it tells those couples, and all the world, that their otherwise valid marriages are unworthy of federal recognition. This places same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second-tier marriage.
Justice and fairness and equality do not come in tiers. We are one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.
Wednesday, the Supreme Court affirmed that our fundamental principles extend to all Americans and all families. We should all be celebrating.