As expected, seeing as now there is one district court in the US that thinks it’s it’s ok for civil marriage to be a state-by-state kind of thing, the US Supreme Court is finally going to hear another case on gay marriage.
Right now, a scant majority of Americans live in states where civil marriages between two people of the same sex are recognized at least on some level, and the minority of states that disagree is dwindling fast. I can’t think of any other issue where the general public of the United States has flipped faster than this one; back in the 1990s even the watered-down half-measure of “domestic partnerships” was a point of much contention and argument. People still couldn’t decide if all gay people were child molesters or if it was just most of them. So, to me, it’s a pretty big deal that the movement for marriage equality has moved so quickly and turned so many people’s opinion on the matter around. As I’ve written before, a lot of that has likely been the waves of people coming out of the closet and showing the world that they are no only gay but also fairly normal, average human beings who are neighbors and siblings and cousins and friends of all kinds of heterosexual folks. Imagine that. So obviously if this court decision this summer goes the way that the preponderance of court decisions on gay marriage have gone, all those regular folks will have a great thing to celebrate.
But what if it doesn’t go our way? What if, like so many other contentious cases in the last 15 years, those same five conservatives outvote their four liberal colleagues? It would, to put it succinctly, be a bit of a shit-show.
I won’t get into too many of these, but there are a number of reasons why it would be a catastrophic decision on multiple levels to say that it’s totally fine for different states to have a different standard of what a marriage is. First of all, clearly, it will set up a circumstance where the same exact couple will be able to bind themselves in civic matrimony in some states but not others. So, on a pretty fundamental level, this sets up a pretty significant difference in peoples' rights as they move from state to state. Marriage itself isn’t so much a right as a collection of a whole bunch of statuses and rights imparted to the participants thereof, so it’s kind of a big deal if you can get that set up in one state but can’t in another. Along with this, it would also mean that states would not be compelled to recognize the marriages made by other states. So, to the law, you and your partner could be family in one state, then be legally strangers in another. Just by transferring to a different job or getting reassigned to a different military base, among other life changes, could lead to your relationship being downgraded from “spouse” to “roommate”. Doesn’t seem fair. For a huge amount of legally married same-sex couples, this will mean that one day they’re married, the next they aren’t, by court decision (if their state decides to overturn the court decisions forcing them to recognize their marriage). This is because the majority of states that have gay marriage rights now have them because of court order, not because of popular vote (my home state of Illinois voted in favor of gay marriage rights, so yay us!).
People like Rick Santorum are out there saying they’ll “die on that hill” of opposition to gay marriage, but they don’t even realize they’ve lost yet. Several anti-gay organizations have released statements praising the Supreme Court for taking this up, but I have to wonder what they really think their chances are, when they think about this. Their press releases and statements make it seem like they’re confident that the Supreme Court will willingly arrest the momentum of gay marriage and stop it from becoming a nationwide thing, but how long do they really think they can hold it back? Most people are living in a state right now where gay people can get hitched, and yet society hasn’t completely descended into anarchy and chaos. The world has continued to spin at more or less the same rate, the Sun hasn’t exploded, dogs haven’t started marrying cats; literally the only thing that has happened is that couples who love each other dearly who weren’t allowed to be married before can now make that commitment to each other. I consider that a huge win, but I know there are a lot of folks out there who are very upset. I think I know why, too.
I don’t think people like Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee and their ilk are upset or scared of actual gay people actually getting married. I think, at this point, it’s been thoroughly debunked that anything terrible will actually happen as a result of that. No. The terrible thing that these folks are scared of is the very real possibility that in a few years, 100% of Americans will be living in a country where their gay and lesbian fellow citizens can marry each other, and the people who spoke out against it the loudest today will be tomorrow’s ostracized bigots. They’re afraid that, similar to publicly racist bigotry, their brand of bigotry will be so looked down upon that it will become relegated to hushed whispers down at the country club or at home. They are afraid that they won’t be able to call anyone a f*ggot, lest they be (correctly) labeled an asshole. They’re afraid that all their fellow bigots will die off and the few dead-enders will join society’s other outcasts like neo-nazis and white nationalists. Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee are in the running to be this century’s Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond George Wallace. As far as I’m concerned, that is a shameful legacy they are free to join if they wish. Meanwhile the rest of us will continue to move on.
As Huckabee and Santorum both set themselves up to run for President next year, it will be interesting to see if either one of them has moved on to other issues besides this one. The last time Huckabee ran, he ran as an outright theocrat, openly desiring the US to base all its policy decisions on Christian scripture; the last time Santorum ran, he ran mostly against same-sex marriage, premarital sex, and contraception of all the things. These were presidential campaigns either from 16th century America or 20th century Iran. One of the more fascinating things about this Supreme Court decision is how it will affect the 2016 election. Either way, it will set up a situation where those two will pretty much have to comment on it. So, I guess prepare yourself for hilarity, because no matter what the Supreme Court says on gay marriage, Huckabee and Santorum have about as much chance of being elected president in 2016 as I do.
Well, 2016 season starts now. Let the games begin, space cadets!