Civil and Human Rights

Editorial: A chance for marriage equality across the land

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday finally opted to weigh in on one of the paramount civil rights issues of our day:

 

Are same-sex couples in every state entitled to the same freedoms and rights of marriage as heterosexual couples?

 

The answer should be an unequivocal yes, a strong affirmation of the basic principles of equal protection enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. The court is expected to decide by June.

 

Marriage equality is a reality in 36 states and D.C, covering more than 70 percent of the U.S. population. And the vast majority of courts that already have spoken have sided with marriage equality. The Supreme Court is weighing in only after finding a major court that upheld bans on same-sex marriage, in the states of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. Until that decision, nearly every court had ruled in favor of same-sex marriage.

 

The court needed a conflict to justify stepping in, but it also clearly was biding its time until a pattern among the states emerged. And the pattern is easy to read: same-sex marriage is flourishing across the U.S, with the majority of Americans supporting it.

 

The high court is historically a conservative body, loath to get too far ahead of the states and public opinion. A decision affirming the rights of loving same-sex couples poses little risk of that — it would merely reflect a more tolerant America.

 

There is a risk, of course, that the court could uphold the bans on gay marriage in those four states. The court also is weighing the question of whether the 14th Amendment requires the recognition of same-sex marriages performed in others states.

 

Illinois, which allows for gay marriage, is vulnerable on the second front. The state’s gay marriage law is likely to remain untouched, but gay couples could lose their rights when they head into, say, Michigan.

 

A far more likely scenario is that the Supreme Court says yes to both questions, offering up a landmark civil rights decision that will stand in the history books alongside Brown v. Board of Education and Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 decision that struck down prohibitions on interracial marriage.

 

The Loving case is likely the best guide. At the time, all but 16 states had eliminated such laws, Elizabeth B. Wydra of the Constitutional Accountability Center wrote on Friday. The majority of states had embraced equality. The rest eventually caught up.

 

The rest found their way, on interracial marriage as well as gay marriage, because basic human fairness took over. This is about people we know, our neighbors, our friends, our co-workers, who are denied the most basic of fundamental rights: to be with the one you love.

 

Lambda Legal, a forerunner in the fight for marriage equality, reminded us on Friday who stands behind these cases: a couple expecting a child that had hoped to marry before the child’s arrival; a widower who wanted his name on his partner’s death certificate.

 

There is nothing radical about these desires. This is only something deeply human.

 

We look forward to a day, not long from now, when the U.S. Supreme Court fully recognizes the humanity in each and every one of us.

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