Marriage equality is here, there and everywhere

By : Billy Manes
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By now everyone is aware that marriage equality flew over the top of that odd equator of middling mob rule and into reality. On Friday, June 26, nine people—the nine people that make up the third arm of national governance—ruled 5-4 that gay and lesbian couples in this country are allowed to marry. The split was a little closer than expected. Some thought Chief Justice John Roberts might sway on the issue (he didn’t); most believed Justice Anthony Kennedy would (he did). Still, it was a tight decision and a reason to finally exhale.

Same-sex marriage became legal in Florida on Jan. 6 of this year. But it was cold comfort to the other 30 percent of United States residents whose states were not supporting equality for all. There was the potential for it to be terrible.

“We’re facing unprecedented territory here,” local civil rights attorney Mary Meeks said, days before the ruling. “There’s no actual answer. I think the conventional wisdom among the gay expert legal community is that marriages that currently exist will not be undone. The real chaos would be if they rule against us.”

And there has been an element of chaos, even after the decision.

“Already Christian businesses are facing discrimination if they don’t want to participate in wedding ceremonies that violate their sincerely held beliefs,” Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said to Fox News last weekend. “We need to stand up for our First Amendment rights. The court trumped our 10th Amendment rights by overturning states’ decisions.”

That changed in a heartbeat, however, as that state fell in line with the law of the land. Louisiana is now issuing marriage licenses. But the weak logic hiding beneath Jindal’s initial grandstanding is troubling, Equality Florida co-founder and chief executive officer Nadine Smith says.

“We are hearing this absurd [argument]. Having lost on the case, they turned to these absurd assertions. No pastor will ever be compelled to conduct a gay marriage,” she says, adding that pastors have been allowed the right to refuse interracial marriages for decades. It’s a red herring.

Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that won the war, drew hyperbolic cries of “treason” from conservative justices.

“If you are among the many Americans—of whatever sexual orientation—who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision. Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal,” conservative Justice C.J. Roberts wrote. “Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.”

But that’s not how U.S. Congressman Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, sees it.

“Let me try to put it in an interesting perspective,” he says. “We have two ways to make progress. One way is to try to prevail upon people in the judiciary, or the judges, to benefit upon what was once referred to in a Supreme Court decision as a ‘discrete, insular minority.’ That’s the term that was used.” The other, he says, is through the democratic process.

“What’s interesting is that both of those are happening right now,” he says. “Much more important than what five people think is what 330 million people think, and that argument is in the process of being won.”

And when the decision came down—replete with rainbow lighting on the White House—the answer was clear: We won.

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family,” Justice Kennedy wrote. “In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were.”

“Their hope,” Kennedy continued, “is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

But rights come with strings attached these days, says Meeks, who has been a strong voice for the LGBT community via her law firm and advocacy.

“We know that it’s not going to be over. It will be a huge, resounding celebratory moment and we should take a few days,” she said last week before the ruling. “But then we should be vigilant against all of the backlash that we know we’re going to get and not forget, just like with abortion rights, they start chopping off little bits and going backwards.”

For now, though, she says we should celebrate.

“Overall, my takeaway is that it is a strong opinion that arrives at a time that the nation has embraced equality,” she says. “And I’m proud that Florida was part of the momentum.”

At St. Petersburg’s Pride celebration and parade the day after the decision was handed down, approximately 200,000 people of all stripes agreed vehemently. Even beneath the pounding beats of dance effusion, even under the heat of the summer sun, there was something different: Smiles were wider, hair was higher, life was better.

“The world has changed because LGBT activists have won the argument,” Grayson says.

But even with all of that glory, pomp and circumstance, there remains the reality that the civil rights battle isn’t over.

“We have been battling on all fronts all the time. Marriage happened to capture the national imagination. But penny for penny we’ve been investing in job discrimination. Penny for penny, we’ve been investing in bullying,” EQFL’s Smith says. “We can’t afford to wait … we have to seize moments wherever they present themselves. And more people need a job than they need marriage.”

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