Friday, June 26, 2015

A Long National Embarrassment is Ended


Whether you analogize it to a thunderbolt of justice or simply a final domino falling, the sound was loud and clear and shook the firmament today.

The Supreme Court of the United States issued a ruling in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges. The majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, bars any state from enforcing bans on marriage between two adults of the same sex or failing to recognize such marriages licensed in other states, under the 14th Amendment to our Constitution.

Justice Kennedy also wrote:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

I'm given to feeling awfully jaded in these times but a tear is in my eye as if a long, painful embarrassment and a lingering personal injustice is lifting - and I'm suddenly out of reasons to doubt it will happen (even though I've been saying it was inevitable for years). Our sad, suffering country looks up and today, on one divisive issue, sees a rainbow. I'll watch through the window for signs of the seven plagues but I think rather this is a day for us to let go and celebrate a measure of equality and decency.

Disparagement of homosexuality will remain, but is now relegated to the sphere of personal opinion without the endorsement of the state. There will be angry feelings and dire predictions of perdition - but it is a good day when an official stigma is toppled like the statue of a hated dictator and replaced with the open air of civil equality.

One complaint that was often aired by people uncomfortable with The Gay has been that marriage would somehow be diminished or diluted as an institution if people of the same sex were allowed to marry. If anything, I felt the opposite was more true: not that my marriage itself was degraded, but that by enjoying the rights of civil marriage, I was "more equal" than my fellow citizens, that I was enjoying rights that were actually privileges, from which other human beings worthy of love and good will were rudely excluded. I claim no victimization here, but it is a relief to have that one stain expunged at last.

I remember performing a wedding in Providence, Rhode Island that was attended by friends and teachers, Brian and Stephen. At the reception they played that game where the couples took the dance floor and the DJ called out, "Keep dancing if you've been together 5 years..." and some would clear off and it continued. Ten years. Fifteen years. Twenty years. Guess which couple made it to the final three. (The final three included a couple that had been married for fifty years.) That's right, the couple who could not get married in the state where they lived. The stupidity of it was appalling. I asked Brian if he thought about taking Stephen over to Massachusetts and getting married and with a steely dignity Brian said, "I would like to get married in the state where I have lived and worked almost my entire adult life." I thought of him the day I was married.

The country's judiciary has finally put an end to one grotesque and stupid injustice. One step, but a big one in terms of our maturity as a nation, a step in the direction of a greater union.

Let us rejoice and celebrate, like we would at a wedding.  And then we keep going, because we dwell in a garden where there is plenty of injustice to root out so the crops of justice, democracy, and peace can one day flourish.

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