Saturday, December 4, 2021
Dec. 4, 2021

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In Our View: Ruling Ends Gay Marriage

Qualifying term no longer needed; all unions should now be termed marriages

The Columbian
Published:

In truth, Friday’s decision from the U.S. Supreme Court ended gay marriage. No longer is the qualifying term necessary. No longer must we delineate between marriage and gay marriage. From now on, in all 50 states, the willingness of two people to make a lifelong commitment to each other and have that commitment recognized by the state will be known simply as “marriage,” regardless of gender.

That is the practical result of a 5-4 decision that declared state laws banning same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. Citing the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion, “Under the Constitution, same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite-sex couples, and it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right.”

The Columbian long has editorially supported this position, arguing that the issue is one of fairness and equality. Washington voters agreed, approving a same-sex marriage law with 54 percent of the vote in 2012. By the time of last week’s Supreme Court ruling, 37 states and the District of Columbia had approved gay marriage, and the tidal wave of growing support promised to eventually wash over all 50 states.

But while the latest polls suggest that some 60 percent of Americans support the right of same-sex couples to marry — and that the number is growing, particularly among young people — the decision undoubtedly will not quash the dissent. Nor should it. A robust debate will continue, and those who oppose gay marriage have every right to express their opinions without being subjected to knee-jerk accusations of bigotry. In addition, it is essential that religious liberty be protected when it comes to the institution of marriage. In the end, however, arguments against gay marriage fall short on the logic scale.

Chief Justice John Roberts, in his dissent, advocated in favor of states’ rights and the legislative process. But the Equal Protection Clause trumps this argument, and it leads to questions about what the national landscape would look like if states were allowed to decide for themselves the issues of, say, interracial marriage or women’s suffrage or slavery. Allowing states to decide upon what should be considered a basic human right would be anathema to the notion that individual liberty is the foundation of our constitutional system of government.

Similarly, arguments about marriage’s traditionally being between one man and one woman fall flat. The institution has changed — evolved — along with society through the centuries. “The nature of injustice,” Kennedy wrote, “is that we may not always see it in our own times.” What once was an institution consisting primarily of arranged unions and dowries has been transformed into one with a more meaningful foundation. “No union is more profound than marriage,” Kennedy wrote, “for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family.”

Nothing in that depends on gender. If the basis for a legal union between two people is a shared commitment, then our nation is made stronger by it, not weaker. If we legally recognize that love should be the defining quality of a marriage, then we all are enriched. As the most common refrain from those celebrating last week’s decision suggested, “Love wins.” In the end, that will be the lasting rejoinder. Future generations, we’re guessing, will look back upon the debate and question what all the fuss was about. For them, marriage will be marriage, same-sex or not.

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