Sixty years ago, the California Supreme Court courageously became the first in the country to strike down a law that prohibited interracial marriage — a full twenty years before the United States Supreme Court effectively wiped such laws off the books nationwide. Tomorrow, the California Supreme Court will once again confront marriage discrimination as it hears oral arguments in the consolidated lawsuits challenging the state’s refusal to allow same-sex couples to marry. Although the California legislature passed a bill that would have ended this discrimination , it was vetoed by the Governator, and it is now once again up to the state Supreme Court to ensure that, in California at least, equality under the law is a reality for all.
Americans understand that marriage is about love and commitment, about shared responsibilities, about growing old with one very special person. And they understand fairness; they understand that there is something fundamentally unfair about denying someone the opportunity to marry the person he or she loves. Massachusetts and our wonderful neighbor to the north have already shown America that the world will not end, the sky will not fall, if gay men and lesbians are allowed to marry under civil law. One day, it will not take lawsuits for such marriages to happen.
But the courts are an important avenue for achieving justice by faithfully applying constitutional principles when other branches of government have failed to do so. Today, we suspect that most Americans simply cannot fathom the notion that a man and a woman would be legally prevented from marrying based on the color of their skin. And we are confident that at some point in the future, the same will be true when it comes to the marriages of same-sex couples. As Dr. King often said, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.