Same-sex marriage is not just a personal issue. It concerns far more than your right to marry whomever you wish. At its heart, same-sex marriage is a measure of the ability of our communities and our nation to sympathize, to empathize and to love.
Embracing caring, committed relationships should be a hallmark of every society. These unions should be celebrated and cherished, for we are not simply a society of individuals going about our daily lives. We are people interconnected by a web of relationships. That is what makes us who we are.
If an individual loves another who makes him happy, makes him laugh and is committed to being there for him in sickness and in health, then our society’s values are surely awry if it does not treat these caring souls with dignity and instead demeans their relationship simply because of their anatomy. We human beings are far more than a collection of body parts.
Of course, much of the United States still opposes this logic. Even after Wednesday’s rulings on the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8, 37 states still stigmatize same-sex relationships as inferior to opposite-sex relationships.
I had hoped the court would make same-sex marriage the law of the land in all 50 states. Born and raised in Tennessee, I have seen some of the worst of what my gay friends have had to go through. Their experiences have made me skeptical of the argument that justice is about to roll down across the country like waters or that righteousness will do the same like a mighty stream absent a Supreme Court finding that forces the South’s hand.
And yet, as I reflect on the Supreme Court’s decisions, I am profoundly overjoyed.
Yes, there is still far more work to be done on same-sex marriage and on other important LGBT issues, from same-sex couple adoption rights to employment discrimination. But until I heard Justice Anthony Kennedy’s words from inside the courtroom, after a night of camping out in front of it, I did not fully appreciate just how significant the ruling on DOMA in United States v. Windsor was for our country and for each of us — gay, straight and in between.
The court found DOMA to be “unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment,” violating “basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the Federal Government,” though a decision on the dubious constitutionality of states banning same-sex marriages will unfortunately have to wait for another day. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court made it abundantly clear that the Constitution fundamentally protects, as Justice Kennedy wrote, the “moral and sexual choices” of same-sex couples.
The majority opinion affirmed that depriving people of rights, privileges or benefits simply because of a wish to express disapproval of their sexual orientation is unconstitutional.
The legal default for our nation is no longer discrimination, helping LGBT youth around the country. In a way, the Supreme Court ruling is its own “It Gets Better” video.
The DOMA ruling will help a lot more people visualize a day when they can be out and happy and married to the person they love, and their federal government will now accept that love as equal under the law for the first time.
No matter how snarky and smarmy Justice Antonin Scalia’s (CAS ’57) dissent may have been, the DOMA ruling makes it more possible than ever to visualize a future when all 50 states hold up loving, caring, committed relationships — gay or straight — as examples of what is right, what is natural and what our society should value.
Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer were together for more than 40 years. Their marriage of two years was recognized by the state of New York before Spyer died in 2011. The United States federal government used to explicitly denigrate their relationship. Not anymore.
The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.
Josh Zeitlin is a senior in the College. He was a field organizer at Organizing for America during the 2012 presidential race and editor-in-chief of The Georgetown Progressive.