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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Gay Marriage: Bread and Circuses

As I scrolled through my Facebook news feed this morning, I saw post after euphoric post celebrating the Supreme Court's decisions in two cases involving same-sex marriage.  Thanks were being offered!  Tears were being shed!  (I have a substantial number of friends in the musical theater industry.)  I'm happy that so many of my friends are happy, but, at the risk of being a massive wet blanket, I must admit to feeling less than overjoyed.

Don't get me wrong.  SCOTUS got the decision right.  As I have said repeatedly, insofar as the government should be involved in legislating romance at all, gays and lesbians should have the same inherent rights to marriage as heterosexuals. It's really a no-brainer--and, appropriately enough, those who oppose such rights are substantively lacking in brains (Bachmann)--or at least in hearts and souls (Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, Alito).  But at the same time, how much did today's decision actually accomplish?

By overturning the Defense of Marriage Act and declining to decide a case involving California's Proposition 8 (which outlawed same-sex marriage and was subsequently declared unconstitutional by a California court), the Supremes ensured federal recognition of gay marriage and in effect made California the thirteenth state to legalize same-sex marriage.  All well and good.  But they issued no sweeping statement on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage; individual states can still choose to outlaw or condone such unions as they see fit. But virtually every Democratic lawmaker--and even some moderate Republicans--has come out in favor of same-sex marriage.  The arc of history is indeed bending towards justice, and even if SCOTUS had done nothing, more and more states are likely to pass legislation allowing same-sex marriage in the near future.

Still, you might say, this decision likely expedites the eventual universal acceptance of same-sex marriage, and it certainly comes as a welcome relief to thousands of gay couples whose marriages no longer languish in some sort of legislative-judicial purgatory.  Isn't that worth celebrating?  Maybe.  I can't help but think, though, that what we are really celebrating is the fact that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy apparently is more sympathetic to the personal, symbolic rights of gay people than he is to the actual, political rights of black people.

How cynical was it for the Court to release its decision on gay marriage the day after its decision effectively revoking the Voting Rights Act of 1965?  People upset about the potential disenfranchisement of minority voters?  Let them eat gay wedding cake!  (That is, cake at gay weddings--not a homosexual pastry.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

And while Tea Partiers and other assorted troglodytes will scream that today's decision represents a major milestone on America's inevitable journey down the road to Hell, they will soon come to realize--as supporters of gay marriage have long argued--that same-sex marriage affects exactly no one other than the happy couples and their families.  On the other hand, the fact that retrograde state legislatures in southern backwaters can now happily experiment with ways to strip blacks and other undesirables of basic rights of citizenship affects us all.

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