Opinion

The Great Debate

A victory for gays and for families

By Jeff Chu
June 26, 2013

I didn’t expect to cry on my wedding day. But there I was last September, in my Cape Cod backyard, trussed up in suit and tie, waiting for my soon-to-be husband at our makeshift altar, and the tears came. I wish I could say they were two camera-ready teardrops, wending their way down my left cheek. But no. In reality, I got a monsoon — I was a sobbing, near-hyperventilating mess. The importance of what we were doing had just hit me: We were pledging, in public symbol and sacred promise, to build and sustain a life together.

When I began to read what Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the court’s majority, I realized that he agreed. In eviscerating DOMA, he also wrote a stirring defense of the very institution that many conservatives believe is threatened by gay marriage: the American family.

The announcement of the Supreme Court’s decision comes three days before Kennedy’s 50th wedding anniversary (he married fellow Sacramento, California, native Mary Davis on June 29, 1963), and what’s striking in his writing is the high regard that Kennedy has for what couples, gay and straight, assemble. He writes of same-sex couples’ “pride in themselves and their union.” He repeatedly deploys the word “dignity.” He argues that DOMA “places same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second-tier marriage.” And more than that, he writes, “the differentiation demeans the couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects.” (His choice of the word “demeans” echoes his diction in Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 case in which Kennedy, again writing for the majority, struck down a Texas sodomy law and argued that this kind of invasive legislation “demeans” gay people.)

Dignity and stability were already clearly on Kennedy’s mind during the two days of oral arguments about DOMA and California’s gay marriage ban in March. At one point, lawyer Charles J. Cooper, arguing on behalf of California’s gay marriage ban, warned of “adverse consequences” of “fundamentally” redefining “this age-old bedrock social institution” of marriage. Justice Antonin Scalia backed Cooper up, with friendly speculation that children raised by same-sex couples might suffer unspecified “deleterious effect.” After both conceded there was no evidence of such effect, Kennedy pointed out one real-world consequence of the ban: “immediate legal injury” to the 40,000 children being reared by same-sex couples in California. Those children, he said, “want their parents to have full recognition and full status. The voice of those children is important in this case, don’t you think?”

He certainly thought so, because he returns to the children in his decision. If we are, to borrow Scalia’s wording, talking about the deleterious effects on children reared by same-sex couples, Kennedy outlines the most obvious ones that result from DOMA: The law, he writes, “humiliates the tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples. The law in question makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.”

Integrity. Closeness. Community. These are key elements in a firm family foundation. By choosing these words and using them, Kennedy exposes the weakness to a key argument in favor of “traditional” marriage. He recognizes that the strength of a family is not derived from the gender(s) of those who comprise it.

My marriage draws its inherent dignity primarily from private promises and our sacred commitment, not from a court decision. My family — the very word is rooted in the Latin for “household,” with even more ancestry in a Sanskrit term referring to “that which is established” — derives its meaning from our love. But I am in a public institution, too. In this nation of laws, marriage is a civic contract that comes with protections and benefits. This Supreme Court decision reminds us that these are open to all, gay or straight, because separate is not equal.

Anthony Kennedy didn’t redefine marriage or weaken the family — he affirmed them. They say that it’s polite to send a wedding gift for up to a year after the big day, and by adding legal affirmation to the spiritual and emotional dignity that my marriage already had, he and four of his colleagues on the court gave us one of the best gifts we could have asked for. I should send them a thank-you note.

PHOTO: Gay marriage supporter Vin Testa waves a rainbow flag in anticipation of U.S. Supreme Court rulings in the cases against California’s gay marriage ban known as Prop 8 and the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), outside the court building in Washington, June 24, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Comments
2 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Why all the sloppy sentimentality? This isn’t about love or commitment, presumably those were already there. It’s not about ceremonies, those were not banned even before this decision by the Court. It’s not about societal acceptance, those who accepted gays and gay marriage still do, and those who didn’t still don’t. It’s about money, in the form of federal benefits. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it seems rather disingenuous not simply to admit it.

Posted by Shamizar | Report as abusive
 

http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/20 13/06/26/marriage-equality-not-for-state s-to-decide/

I posted this comment on the above article, but it applies equally to all of you people who want to rush to judgement on this issue.

Your strongly-voiced “argument” is nothing more than your personal opinion, but contains no facts to support it.

The 14th Amendment was designed specifically to ensure the rights of blacks in this country, due to treatment they had received as slaves.

It has also been “misused” by some to ensure blacks are not only “equal”, but “more than equal” (i.e. reverse discrimination through “affirmative action), as if past wrongs can be somehow reversed by the denial of rights to present citizens who had nothing whatsoever with slavery.

There is no moral way to justify such actions, or to put it more simply (i.e. on a level your mind can accept), “two wrongs do not make a right”.

That is a zero sum game for this nation.

Frankly, my “bullshit-o-meter” went off the scale on the amount of “rah, rah, sis, boom, bah” in this poorly written screed.

I was going to point out some obvious legal errors in your interpretation of the 14th Amendment, but frankly you have departed from reality so far there is no way I can cover it all in this venue.

Let me say your statement that “The Constitution enshrines certain rights and liberties as so important that they are above the politics of the day. Freedom of speech and religion, for example, are never put to a popular vote” sent shivers down my spine.

This IS about the “politics of the day”.

To characterize it any other way is to misunderstand the importance of the “politics of the day” in terms of how we govern ourselves. Notice I said not how we are governed. There IS a difference.

What you are arguing is that the federal government — actually, nine fallible men and women who are entirely above the law, and not subject to the US Constitution at all, but supposedly are able to determine what it means for this entire nation at any point in time — has the right to decide on its own and enforce “certain rights and liberties as so important that they are above the politics of the day”.

I wasn’t aware there are any “eternal truths” that all people everywhere would agree that are above the “politics of the day”.

What IS “enshrined” in the constitution is that this is a “democracy”, not a kingdom or dictatorship subject to the whims of a person or an elite minority who can decide for us what is right.

If you care to look at the history of the rulings of the US Supreme Court, you will notice they have made MANY mistakes in the past.

Let’s hope by this time the supreme court has learned enough about racial equality that they choose not to take that road again.

ANY nation that ignores the “politics of the day” risks putting itself in jeopardy of being overthrown by its own people.

As a matter of fact, that is exactly how the US Constitution came into being — or have you forgotten?

You are young and have the impatience of the young, but I suggest you tone down the inane “cheerleading” and do a reality check on what you are saying before engaging in more screed like this. It serves no useful purpose, but only tends to inflame what is already a “hot button” issue. One in which I believe we should move carefully and with deliberation.

Posted by EconCassandra | Report as abusive
 

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