Three Cheers for Five Justices
What an historic ruling on Friday, June 26! With just the majority ruling needed, the Supreme Court of the United States declared that states must allow same sex marriages, and, in a related case, they must accept same sex marriages from other states. The case is known as Obergefell v. Hodges. Jim Obergefell and John Arthur married in 2013. When John Arthur died, the state of Ohio, at the hand of Hodges, the Ohio Director of Health, refused to list Obergefell as his spouse on the death certificate. This case will be quoted and referenced as the “Civil Rights case of the 21st Century.” Justice Anthony Kennedy, normally considered to be a conservative justice, was the key swing vote on this issue. The opinions offered by the various justices, both in favor and opposed, reveal the nature of their character. The majority opinion, of course, was written with key insight into the heart of the Court.
The prose of the text of the Supreme Court ruling is laden with gems of wisdom and insight into the minds and lives of numerous gays across the country. The hopes, the aspirations, the dreams, and the love shared by gay couples are all captured in the text of the majority ruling.
From the ruling come these words: "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."
In keeping with the tradition of the Supreme Court, there were four Justices who decided to dissent from the majority decision. I can understand that there may be some difference of legal opinion in the wide range of cases that this Court hears from year to year. That is why there are nine Justices, and why a majority of five is needed to carry a decision one way or the other. But we do expect that dissenting opinions would be based on legal rationale, on the intelligent deciphering of the US Constitution. By far, the strongest legal defense of the minority opinion is that this issue is a states’ rights issue, not a federal one. Each state can choose whether or not to allow same sex marriage. This was the stated opinion of Justice Roberts. However, the expectation of reasonable dissent from the other three Justices in Obergefell v. Hodges leave us shaking our heads, wondering how such intelligent persons ever reached this level of judicial stature.
While this space does not allow me to quote at length from the minority opinions, it is important to share some of the convoluted reasoning of our esteemed Justices.
Justice Roberts leaves the world of sane legality to lead the way for outright insults hurled toward the majority Justices. He writes, "The majority’s decision is an act of will, not legal judgment. This right it announces has no basis in the Constitution or this Court’s precedent…. As a result, the Court invalidates the marriage laws of more than half the States and orders the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs. Just who do we think we are?" Wow, did Roberts ever cover a lot of ground in that one section! He is right, that there is no precedent in the Court’s history. Nor was there a precedent for abortion prior to Roe v. Wade. Sometimes the Court just has to make a decision and set precedent! This is one of those times.
Of course, Justice Thomas reached a new low in dissenting opinion on the Court. I can understand having to justify an archaic homophobic opinion in front of the whole world. What I cannot understand is why he took the opinion that he did in that dissent. Thomas did not like the argument comparing same sex marriage to the Court allowing mixed race marriage decades ago. But it was his perspective on slavery that wins him the prize. Thomas wrote, "Human dignity cannot be taken away by the government. Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them…The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away."
There, now, don’t we all feel better? Prohibiting same sex marriage does not take away any of the dignity that the LGBT community has. Well, I beg to differ! The discrimination faced by this community each day does take away the dignity we all deserve!
Justices Scalia and Alito had their own entertaining twists on their understanding of Constitutional law. But space will not allow me to go into detail. Forgive me for taking the time to highlight the misguided diatribes of the four dissenting Justices. This is a time for celebration! This is a time to honor the love of two men or two women, those who have been kept outside the wedding chapel for too long, in too many places across our country.
One of my good friends in this community has a pic on her Facebook page that reads, LOVE WINS! And to that majority opinion, I say, “AMEN!”