It’s been a VERY long day, but wanted to post some quick personal reflections on today’s monumental Supreme Court decision. I will do so under a few quick headings.
Does This Settle the Marriage Issue?
- Today’s ruling settles and puts this issue to bed no more than Roe v. Wade settled the abortion issue in 1973. Issues having to do with such basic issues of human life, sexuality and marriage cannot really be settled in such a way. That is demonstrably clear.
- Particularly, Roe benefited from a clear and strong 7-2 majority, but did nothing to settle question in hearts of Americans since that day. It undeniably inflamed the issue and that fire still burns white hot today.
- Anyone who reads the entirety of today’s decision clearly sees that this question is not even settled among the Court itself evidenced by the narrow tilt toward a “yea” vote via the tie-breaking opinion of Justice Kennedy. The dissenting four justices did not only disagree, but categorically rejected the slight majority’s conclusion and entire rationale.
Some Basic Problems with the Majority’s Rationale
Of course, enough will be written on the perceived problems with the decision over the coming days to wipe out whole forests, or at least employ countless terabytes. I offer just a few curious observations from my reading.
- The majority dismissed the historically monolithic understanding that marriage is between men and women as obviously wrong, but held tight to the assumption – as if self-evident and universally agreed upon – that marriage must only involve two people. Who will wager real money that the majority’s sure assumption of the distinct virtue of couplehood will not be deemed discriminatory by their own peers in the less than twenty years?
- As most other Courts favoring SSM have done, this majority bases its decision largely on some very ephemeral characteristics of the plaintiffs. The majority took great care to explain how kind and caring the plaintiffs are. People any of us would admire. That is indeed good to know. But what if the plaintiffs were in fact surly and impertinent folks? Would it be just to claim that should weaken their case? The majority assures us they have the best intentions toward marriage. Excellent, but what if they possessed only a negligible estimation of marriage? Does their supposed Constitutional right rest contingent on the strength or weakness of their personal qualities? What court would consider such a subjective and prejudicial rationale? Uhm.
Bigotry and Loving v. Virginia
As most know, Loving was an important and necessary 1967 Supreme Court decision that struck down state laws that prevented White and Black citizens from marrying each other. The declared motivation of such laws (Literally entitled the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 in Virginia) was to use marriage for purposes of protecting “racial purity”; thus enlisting marriage into the service of a vile ideology. The Court unanimously struck down these obscene laws, declaring marriage was all about bringing male and female together, not keeping the races apart.
The Majority today made hearty use of references to Loving. It was a smart move but only for the lowest of rhetorical reasons. Loving was discriminatory and that Court did God’s work in fixing it. Of course, only the nastiest brand of bigots would say the the Court’s decision in Loving was wrong. Today, the Majority has told us they are only following the example of those good Justices in righting another great injustice. And yes, the comparison itself communicates that only the nastiest brand of bigot would oppose today’s Court in doing God’s work. It is a clever but despicably manipulative chess move.
As such, consider which justice gave the most ink and passion to rebutting the Loving comparison and did so for this very reason. That would be the only justice on the Court who is Black and in an inter-racial marriage.
Justice Thomas, who one would assume would have the deepest personal interest in extending to others the protections Loving provided to him, described the comparison crisply as “both offensive and inaccurate” because “laws defining marriage as between one man and one woman do not share the sordid past” that antimiscegenation laws do. Not by any comparison.
That is why the enlistment of Loving into this debate is not only wrong, but inexcusable and leads to the next point.
Will Disagreement Be Tolerated?
If same-sex marriage is indeed a fundamental Constitutional right, where does that leave citizens and organizations who cannot go along with it in good conscience? This no small or purely academic question. The Court asked the question in Oral Arguments and got no clear answers from those arguing for the change.
- Will Focus on the Family and other such groups be in violation of basic human rights when we contend that children have a basic right to be raised by their own mother and father? Will that be deemed discriminatory at best and hate speech at worst?
- What about a Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Mormon college that provides special housing for married students, but only for husbands and wives? Will they have they hammer of discrimination come down on them?
- What about marriage retreats that churches and organizations like Focus hold that are based around a particular teaching on marriage? Must we make adjustments in our lessons and include same-sex couples?
- Will faith-based adoption agencies be driven out because they only place children with mothers and fathers? A number already have and the punishment such agencies will face will only get more sharp and punitive.
- What about the individual business owners who are asked to participate in same-sex weddings by virtue of their artistic skills? The incredible pressure and great legal challenges they are already facing will only get more blunt.
I predict it will get worse than most of us imagine and more quickly.
Justice Alito, in his dissent laments,
“I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.”
Is there even one person celebrating today’s decision who can honestly say people who have serious religious, moral or intellectual reasons for opposing same-sex marriage have nothing to worry about? The answer to that question should be chilling to all classically liberal and free-thinking people.
The Banner of This Movement
The push for redefining marriage into an androgynous institution has made great use of allusion and reference to the long battle for the civil rights of Black Americans. Like appealing to Loving, this has been a smart rhetorical move for the very same reasons. But it’s apparent by simply looking at the demonstrations we have seen today in comparison to the demonstrations of the Civil Rights marchers of the 1960s that these two efforts and rationales are indeed very different in important ways. It is seen in the very different cases each has made for why their call for basic rights is unquestionable.
Consider the dramatic difference in the two iconic images that have come to represent each struggle.
- One movement argued from its commonality with all others – I AM A MAN
- The other celebrates its uniqueness from others – I AM A GAY MAN
The first refused to qualify their membership in humanity. The other is fully centered in qualification. A basic human right cannot itself be based upon one’s distinction, but rather one’s commonality. The first asserts the moral argument that “I must be treated just like you because I am just like you.” Appealing to exceptional ism fundamentally diminishes one’s inherent dignity in the long-run by declaring “I am not like you.”
This brings me to the final point.
What Must Be Front of Mind For Us As We Move Forward?
I’ve been thinking quite a bit today about how someone with my convictions and beliefs conducts himself in a proper manner in the weeks, months, and years ahead. How do I be a good neighbor to those who have a different take on today’s news than I do? Here are some thoughts.
- First, I must keep center of mind that those I very much disagree with on this issue share my common humanity. I must respect and care for them as people even as I disagree and even tangle with them around these ideas.
- I would respectfully ask the same consideration from them.
- While I cannot morally affirm homosexuality, there are far too many things about my own sexuality that I cannot affirm. Not one of us has it all together, which is the great equalizer. It demands our humility.
- I must contend that my happy acceptance of my gay or lesbian neighbor as my friend cannot be contingent on my acceptance of homosexuality or same-sex marriage any more than I can make their acceptance of and friendship with me contingent on their affirmation of my sexuality, my faith or any other essential part of who I am. True friendship doesn’t make such conditional demands.
- Those mourning today’s decision cannot see this as the end of the world. Nor can those celebrating it see it as the dawning of a wonderful new age. Life is never so clear and absolute either way.
- I would hope we can all call ourselves and our ideological peers to task when we make prejudiced and assumptive statements about the character, motivations and intentions of those we disagree with. Challenge of such behavior with “Have you ever actually asked them why they believe/act/think that way?” This requires us to engage one another as people rather than stereotypes in the midst of our serious disagreements. This is essential and must be pursued by all people of goodwill.
As this issue will no doubt be like the abortion issue has been ever since 1973 and before, we as a people of one nation have a long road of passionate and deeply held disagreement before us in the public square, over the back fence, around the water cooler, over the dinner table and in our places of worship. We must each ask ourselves and seek answers to the question of “How do we as a Americans disagree with substance and passion while still treating each other with care, dignity and respect?”
No court can answer that question for us. It is up to each of us to seek the answers and demonstrate them the best we can.
Can we agree on and commit to that?