In early August, on a bluff above the ocean in Baja California, two of my favorite people took their wedding vows at dusk.
My niece Krissa and her partner Julia had asked seven friends to offer short reflections on seven touchstones for a successful marriage. The friends spoke of authenticity, vulnerability, generosity, community, balance, humor and home. It was a lovely ceremony, and when the brides kissed, it was a peak emotional moment for all of us, and proof — as if we needed it — that same-sex marriage is every bit as romantic and meaningful as other marriages.
The glow lasted until I returned from Mexico to Los Angeles and started noticing a stream of emailed fundraising appeals from a man named Brian Brown, homophobic founder of the National Organization for Marriage.
Brown’s organization fights against same-sex unions, and his emails felt like a personal affront. Seriously? Are these people never going to give up the fight against same-sex marriage?
In December, after all, President Joe Biden signed into law the Respect for Marriage Act, a bipartisan bill that codifies same-sex and interracial marriage. Even Pope Francis understands that marriage equality is here to stay. One of the items on the agenda of the 2023 global gathering of Catholics in Rome is whether same-sex couples deserve the church’s blessing. (This is not at all the same as allowing gay Catholics to marry in the church, but it is a slight softening of a very hard line against it.)
However, there are a few reasons why same-sex marriage suddenly feels tenuous to some.
First, the overturning of Roe vs. Wade by the Supreme Court’s ultraconservative majority has breathed new life into not just antiabortion crusades, but other anti-equality movements as well.
Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization suggested the court might want to look at other seemingly settled issues, such as the legalization of contraception and gay marriage. Many proponents of gay rights were shaken to the core by Thomas’ claims in his Dobbs concurrence. If gay marriage were to be overturned, how would the legal rights of same-sex parents be affected? What would happen to their kids? What should they do now to protect their families?
How unfriendly could the court be to same-sex marriage if the current justices take another crack at it? Here’s a hint: In 2019, the National Organization for Marriage’s Brown tweeted a photo of himself with Justices Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh, three weeks after they heard arguments in Bostock vs. Clayton County, perhaps the most important gay rights case since the court legalized gay marriage in 2015.
Alito, Kavanaugh and Thomas would go on to be the three dissenters in the Bostock decision, which found that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects workers from discrimination based on being gay, lesbian or transgender.
I guess it’s to be expected that Brown and company would try to capitalize on fears of drag queens, librarians and gender-affirming doctors. But what was particularly offensive was the campaign’s disingenuous argument that gay marriage has weakened the institution of marriage, an outcome Brown takes credit for predicting.
As proof, Brown offers a recent Pew Research Center survey of 5,000 adults that had some “shocking” results: Only 23 percent of Americans now believe that being married is extremely or very important to live a fulfilling life, and only 26 percent believe that having children is extremely or very important.
He describes this as “a tragic collapse of public belief” in traditional marriage and parenthood.
I’ll give Brown this much: Even he acknowledges that a different Pew poll also found that 61 percent of adults believe that same-sex marriage has been good for society.
If most Americans think our country is better for allowing people to marry whomever they love, that hardly signals a collapse that is “tragic.” Perhaps the better description is “long overdue.”
Robin Abcarian is an opinion columnist at the Los Angeles Times. She writes about news, politics and culture.