June 26, 2015: The Supreme Court extends marriage equality to all, and history is made

June 27, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 27, 2015

I don’t remember much about when or why I first started thinking seriously about gay marriage. I do know this, however: I used to be on the wrong side of history and justice.

I’m the kind of moderate who usually prefers to split the difference rather than award one or the other side an outright victory on any given issue. Gay marriage initially seemed to me to be frivolous — a pointless expansion, and perhaps even an outright redefinition, of marriage. If homosexuals could obtain civil unions that afforded them all the same legal rights as marriage, then why was there any need for gay marriage?

Granted, many states didn’t allow civil unions for homosexuals. This left life partners at the mercy of blood relatives and courts who were often hostile to their interests when one member of a couple was hospitalized or died. Still, civil unions were a reasonable intermediate step. If they could be implemented throughout the nation, I thought, it would moot the struggle over gay marriage.

Over time, however, I changed my mind, as many Americans have since the beginning of the 21st century. A big reason for my evolution on this matter was that I didn’t want to keep company with the most passionate opponents of gay marriage.

President George W. Bush’s political team successfully used gay marriage as a wedge in his 2004 re-election campaign. Bush and his conservative allies vigorously maintained their opposition to gay marriage in following years. One of the loudest voices protesting against gays and gay-marriage was Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas, which reveled in dehumanizing language. “Filthy sodomites crave legitimacy as dogs eating their own vomit & sows wallowing in their own feces crave unconditional love,” the church announced in 1998.

And marriage equality foes often offered arguments that I found specious, to say the least. I never understood how a gay couple’s having the freedom to marry might harm the union of any heterosexual couple. AlterNet’s Zaid Jilani compiled a list of other outrageous claims, including comparisons of gay marriage to slavery and baseless allegations that same-sex marriage would spread disease.

In 2008, when 52 percent of voters in liberal California (of all places!) approved the anti-gay-marriage measure known as Proposition 8, I remember vaguely feeling that the majority had acted meanly. Same-sex marriage proponents filed suit to overturn the measure as unconstitutional; multiple federal judges subsequently deemed the gay marriage ban unconstitutional because it singled out homosexuals in a discriminating manner.

In the spring of 2012, North Carolinians voted on Amendment One, which amended the state constitution to prohibit any legal recognition of intimate same-sex relationships. The change passed handily, gaining backing from 61 percent of voters. I was chagrined by how much support Amendment One received; to me, it seemed that far too many voters were nakedly eager to punish lesbians and gays.

Amendment One, much like Proposition 8, was voided by a federal court in July 2014. By that point, the tide had turned on the question of same-sex weddings: Voters backed gay marriage for the first time ever in November 2012 as initiatives in Maine and Maryland won approval. “We’ve lost at the ballot box 32 times,” Paul Guequierre of Human Rights Campaign told CNN. “History was made tonight.”

On Friday morning, when I learned that the Supreme Court had approved gay marriage throughout the nation in a historic 5-4 ruling, I felt that justice had prevailed. I was touched by #LoveWins, the Twitter hashtag that marriage equality proponents used to celebrate their victory. Seeing Bryan Fischer, the rabidly homophobic American Family Association official, compare the court decision to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attack only confirmed my belief that so-called traditional marriage advocates are very much on the wrong side of both history and rationality.

I’m under no illusion that this one change instantly or automatically converts the United States into paradise; the rantings of Fischer and his allies are certainly indications that fear and hatred still hold sway in the hearts of many Americans. A number of gay people and their allies noted that plenty of work remains to be done; one of the first orders of business will be enacting employment and housing protections for homosexuals. And despite gains, far too many transgender individuals face serious and crippling discrimination at home, in school and elsewhere in society.

As news of the Supreme Court’s historic marriage-equality ruling began to spread, people in Charleston were still burying victims of the June 17 church massacre, in which a white supremacist gunned down nine worshippers. The sorrow of that shooting still lingers, and will for many years to come. Still, on Friday, it felt like a good day to be an American.

No, strike that: On Friday, it felt like a very good day to be an American. Happy National Marriage Equality Day, folks!

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