The Supreme Court has ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. This day is profoundly American and a testament to our Constitution: Individuals who faced discrimination at the hands of the government turned to the courts to vindicate their rights. And the Supreme Court did that today, in a ruling that gives justice to the plaintiffs and, in the process, makes real the promises of liberty and equality that are written in our Constitution.
When the American Way works as intended, it is a beautiful thing to see.
As Justice Kennedy describes in his majority opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, gays and lesbians have for most of American history been scorned, stigmatized, imprisoned, labelled as mentally ill … you name it. Given the horrific consequences for being openly gay, it is no wonder that for so long, as Kennedy writes, “a truthful declaration by same-sex couples of what was in their hearts had to remain unspoken.”
That is profoundly sad, and it is profoundly unjust.
Fortunately, society has changed over the past few decades. The Court majority writes:
In the late 20th century, following substantial cultural and political developments, same-sex couples began to lead more open and public lives and to establish families. This development was followed by a quite extensive discussion of the issue in both governmental and private sectors and by a shift in public attitudes toward greater tolerance.
While this is a recent development for lesbian, gay, and bisexual Americans, it is quite a familiar process for America itself. Indeed, it is the story of America.
This was stated eloquently several years ago when Maryland was debating marriage equality. The marriage bill’s sponsor, Maryland state senator Rich Madaleno, testified in support of the legislation:
Our state and our nation were founded on principles of fairness and equality. These principles are timeless; unfortunately, their application has not been. Yet every generation of Americans has held out their hand to some who had been left out of the promise of equality – held out their hand and brought them fully into our civil society, saying, “You are not the other. You are us.”
After today’s Supreme Court decision, my place in society as a gay American is profoundly changed as a matter of constitutional law. I am no longer the other. I am us.
Today, the system worked.