Settling the same sex marriage debate for good

 

A major victory for same-sex marriage advocates came on Feb. 7 when federal court struck down California’s Proposition 8 as unconstitutional. Prop 8 had previously prohibited same-sex couples from marrying.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 ruling, found that the statute “serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California.”

The United States Court of Appeals is essentially the minor league to the Supreme Court it is likely that the nation’s highest court will choose to review this case.

Marriage isn’t a states’ rights’ issue, it’s a civil rights issue. If we continue to wait for each state to legalize same-sex marriage, it may take decades for the nation to achieve full equality.

Mitt Romney criticized the decision, stating “Today, unelected judges cast aside the will of the people.”

But guess what, Mitt — that’s what detractors said about Brown v. Board of Education.

The purpose of the nation’s highest courts is not to be swayed by public opinion, but to protect the rights and liberties of minorities. That’s precisely why judges are unelected — to protect from public backlash arising from unpopular decisions. 

In many states — including Vermont — judges in the highest court are elected, and therefore can be recalled.  

In November of 2010, Iowa justices were recalled in a campaign targeted against them for voting in favor of same-sex marriage.

“What is so disturbing about this is that it really might cause judges in the future to be less willing to protect minorities out of fear that they might be voted out of office,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, a law professor at University of California Irvine.

The Supreme Court exists to protect civil rights, even in the face of public opposition.

Sixteen states had laws prohibiting miscegenation when the Supreme Court handed down Loving vs. Virginia in 1967. Sodomy was illegal in 13 states in 2003 when the Court decided Lawrence v. Texas.

The California decision wasn’t the only victory for gay rights supporters this week. The Democrat-controlled Washington state legislature passed a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage and Gov. Christine Gregoire, who is also a Democrat, has pledged to sign it.

Washington will become the seventh state to permit same-sex marriages, along with Massachusettes, New York, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, Iowa and Washington, D.C.

Same-sex marriage has been a hot button legislative issue for two decades. A 1993 Hawaii Supreme Court decision positing a ban on same-sex marriages may be unconstitutional scared same-sex marriage opponents so much that Congress drafted and overwhelmingly supported the Defense of Marriage Act, enacted in 1996.

It is time for the Supreme Court to settle this issue indefinitely. According to 53 percent of respondents in a March 2011 poll by Reuters, public opinion nationwide supports same-sex marriage.

Someday, same-sex couples will be able to marry in every state in this country. It is just a matter of time. How many years will we prolong this embarrassing chapter in our history?  How long will it be before we look at anti-gay rights candidates the same way we view segregationist candidates?

The fight for equality for gays can go on, year after year, state by state, by statute or court decision or ballot initiative. Or it can end this year, by an opinion by five justices. There is simply no reason to continue to deny gays the same rights as everyone else.