Sunday, March 24, 2013

Redefining Equality

The Supreme Court will finally hear arguments in the Marriage Equality cases this week, and it's about time. If justice delayed is justice denied, than we've had denial of justice for a good part of our population for far too long.

The opponents of marriage equality do not want to talk about civil rights. They don't want to talk about equality. They don't want to talk about gays sharing in society and being fully accepted in American culture. What they want to talk about is redefining marriage, which they say is what these cases are all about. They also want to point to the Bible for their definition, and cite its prohibitions against any homosexual activity. You'll excuse me, but I am tired of having to worry about what a book that also mandates stoning, banishment and ritual murder has to say about people who live in a manner that is really not your business. If religious opponents of marriage equality can pick and choose which parts of the Bible they want to apply here, then I will feel free to ignore the Bible altogether as a remnant of tales, stories and oral histories that provide a fascinating narrative, but are not relevant to the modern world.

But in the end, they are simply redefining equality. And that's wrong.

The main argument against marriage equality is that it would redefine the institution that opponents believe to be the bedrock of any civilization. Once you allow anybody who loves another person to marry them, then you're opening the door to polygamy, incest and child marriage. Here's Brian S. Brown, one of the most active opponents of marriage equality:
“When you knock over a core pillar of society like marriage, and then try to redefine biblical views of marriage as bigotry, there will be consequences,” Mr. Brown warned last August in a fund-raising letter. “Will one of the consequences be a serious push to normalize pedophilia?”
Then there's this audio from the NPR program The Takeaway, where Joseph Backholm, executive director of Family Policy Institute, an anti-marriage equality group, says that not only should gays not be allowed to marry, they shouldn't be able to adopt and raise children, since that right is traditionally reserved for those who can create children.  I guess childless heterosexual couples need not apply either.

This is what the right wing does best: They scare and twist facts so that there's no other choice but to oppose the same things they oppose. But Mr. Brown did more than that. He enlisted African-American clergymen and women to oppose marriage equality because, he said, it was less a civil rights issue than one of religious doctrine. Wasn't this the same argument that segregationists used to fight integration?

Yes it was.

Denying people rights is the same no matter what their station is. Laws that forbid intermarriage were overturned. Laws that forbid certain sexual practices were overturned. Public places were integrated. The long history of our country generally moves in one direction; towards more freedom and more access for all groups. I can't imagine the Supreme Court saying that marriage equality is against the Constitution. It's just a matter of how far they'll go.

The problem, though, is that even if the Court overturns the Defense of Marriage Act, it doesn't mean that gay couples will have an unfettered right to marry or enjoy the same rights and privileges as heterosexual couples. Unless the Court mandates marriage equality throughout the nation, states that don't recognize it can continue to not do so. That will continue to complicate the lives of those couples who are legally married in the eight states that do recognize marriages if they even visit states that do not. That's not equality. More delays. More denials.

Here is a graphic that explains how the court might rule.

I expect that the Court will open the gates to marriage equality in some way, but won't make a sweeping judgement that covers the whole country. I also believe that this will be another John Roberts decision and that he will provide the fifth vote in favor. If Anthony Kennedy comes along, then the tally will be 6-3. I just can't see Scalia, Alito or Thomas signing on to this.

Opponents of marriage equality say that an expansion of marriage rights is not a done deal. I disagree. Many people already have these marriage rights in the states that recognize gay marriage. I cannot imagine that the court would take those rights away. And once they are affirmed, they will become part of the American way of life. Gay couples will be more visible and will ultimately become more accepted. It will take some time and there will be bumps along the way, but it will happen.

Because this is a civil rights issue. Plain and simple.

For more, go to and on Twitter @rigrundfest

No comments:

Post a Comment