This morning, as expected, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 majority that gay marriage was indeed a constitutional right, prompting what will surely be no small amount of teeth-gnashing by religious conservatives and old people, the last bastions of antigay resistance.
Per the ruling, written by Justice Kennedy (via SCOTUSblog): “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. … [The challengers] ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
“Today’s ruling granting loving, same-sex couples the freedom to marry across our United States is a historic moment for our country, and for tens of thousands of same-sex families who call our state home,” said Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality NC, in a statement issued to the press minutes after the decision came down. “With it, gays and lesbians in every corner of the United States will finally be able to marry the person they love. Today, love won and we celebrate all who have worked tirelessly over many decades to change hearts and minds and make this ruling a possibility.”
(Justice Scalia, in a footnote in his scathing dissent, had what is admittedly a terrific line, even if he’s fundamentally wrong about, well, everything: “If, even as the price to be paid for a fifth vote, I ever joined an opinion for the Court that began: ‘The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity,’ I would hide my head in a bag. The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.”)
But this landmark case just caps a series of victories this week for President Obama, who yesterday saw the health care law that, at least in common parlance, bears his name pass constitutional muster for the second time—and this time, unambiguously, in a ruling that cemented the law’s future rather than merely keeping it alive. (This is a position that, despite conservative caterwauling about tyranny and socialism, a majority of Americans supported.)
The Court also ruled in support of the government’s position on the Fair Housing Act, even though many court-watchers expected the Court to gut that law as it did the Voting Rights Act. In that decision, the Court ruled that people making housing-discrimination cases did not have to prove racist intent, merely that the the results of the policy led to racist outcomes. This is considered a big win by civil rights groups.
And conservatives have also been dealing with the fallout of the Dylann Roof hate crime, as some Republican presidential candidates awkwardly danced around the question of whether it’s proper to display the Confederate flag—an explicit symbol of Southern resistance to black civil rights, the very issue that drove Southern Democrats to the GOP—on the grounds of the South Carolina Capitol building. The more moderate candidates called for the flag to be taken down, and it’s not clear whether that will cost them in South Carolina’s early primary. Meanwhile, Walmart and other retailers pulled merchandise displaying the Confederate flag. (They still sell rap music, which bothered Fox News’ Sean Hannity to no end.) Southern tock band Lynyrd Skynyrd announced they would no longer use it. The Republican governor in Alabama ordered the flag taken down, and South Carolina’s Republican governor—who not so long ago called the flag an issue that nobody important cared about—finally called for its removal as well.
This nation is finally reckoning with its original sin of white supremacy and black subjugation, and the more conservatives have to grapple with balancing the right-wing racists who are part of their base with the
Oh, and Donald Trump is apparently becoming a frontrunner for the GOP nomination, which has to make Hillary Clinton smile. (Trump won’t win the nomination, and is quite likely to go the way of Herman Cain in 2012, but his resurgence will force the more respectable candidates to deal with him and the dumb things he says, which won’t reflect well on anyone.) And Sarah Palin was finally booted from Fox.
The long and short of it, the arc of history continues to bend toward justice—and conservatives, especially religious conservatives, time and time again seem on the wrong side of the most fundamental issues of equal rights and equal opportunity, and increasingly irrelevant and marginalized as a result.
If they don’t change course, if they hew toward traditionalism and cater to their fringe elements, Republicans are likely to have difficult times ahead.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, currently leading in the GOP polls, appears to recognize that. His statement on the Court’s ruling today is muted and respectful:
“Guided by my faith, I believe in traditional marriage. I believe the Supreme Court should have allowed the states to make this decision. I also believe that we should love our neighbor and respect others, including those making lifetime commitments. In a country as diverse as ours, good people who have opposing views should be able to live side by side. It is now crucial that as a country we protect religious freedom and the right of conscience and also not discriminate.”
North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Phil Berger released a similarly measured statement after the ruling.
Other leading conservatives, however, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, have long railed against gay marriage, using it as a way to appeal to Religious Right voters. Rubio recently told a group of religious conservatives that gay marriage posed a “clear and present danger” to Christianity—the kind of hyperbolic rhetoric that doesn’t seem to have widespread appeal. Other conservatives argued in advance of the decision that Christians should engage in civil disobedience to oppose the Court.
Rubio said in a statement today:
“I believe that marriage, as the key to strong family life, is the most important institution in our society and should be between one man and one woman,” Rubio said. “People who disagree with the traditional definition of marriage have the right to change their state laws. That is the right of our people, not the right of the unelected judges or justices of the Supreme Court. This decision short-circuits the political process that has been underway on the state level for years.
“While I disagree with this decision, we live in a republic and must abide by the law,” Rubio added. “As we look ahead, it must be a priority of the next president to nominate judges and justices committed to applying the Constitution as written and originally understood.
“The next president and all in public office must strive to protect the First Amendment rights of religious institutions and millions of Americans whose faiths hold a traditional view of marriage,” Rubio continued. “This is a constitutional duty, not a political opinion. Our nation was founded on the human right of religious freedom, and our elected leaders have a duty to protect that right by ensuring that no one is compelled by law to violate their conscience.
Other GOP candidates have been less magnanimous:
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has made religious liberty a major theme of his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, said the decision will “pave the way for an all out assault against the religious freedom rights of Christians who disagree with this decision.”
“The Supreme Court decision today conveniently and not surprisingly follows public opinion polls, and tramples on states’ rights that were once protected by the 10th Amendment of the Constitution,” Jindal said in a statement. “Marriage between a man and a woman was established by God, and no earthly court can alter that.”
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee vowed not to “acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our Founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch.”
“The Supreme Court has spoken with a very divided voice on something only the Supreme Being can do — redefine marriage,” Huckabee said. “We must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat.”
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker called the court’s decision a “grave mistake,” and called for an amendment to the Constitution to strip the courts of their authority on the issue.
“As a result of this decision, the only alternative left for the American people is to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to reaffirm the ability of the states to continue to define marriage,” Walker said.
This post has been updated to add presidential candidates’ reactions. Here’s the ruling: