By Jeremy Ritter-Wiseman '15, Columnist Since the demise of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 2013, marriage equality has been on a meteoric rise to become the national standard. DOMA, which prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Since then, bans on gay marriage have been ruled unconstitutional in district and state courts across the country. Additionally, U.S. Appeal Courts in four circuits have concomitantly affirmed the unconstitutionality of the states’ bans. Opponents of gay marriage have retained hope, appealing to the Supreme Court to overrule the circuit courts’ rulings. They had retained this hope at least until this past Monday.
By refusing to hear appeals from the Fourth, Seventh, and Tenth Circuit Courts, the Supreme Court might have tacitly legalized gay marriage in America. With the ruling on Monday, gay marriage bills are now able to move forward in the five states of Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin. With these states added, the tally is 24 states and the District of Columbia which now recognize same sex marriage. Furthermore, the ripple effect of the ruling may lead to the more states recognizing same sex marriage and could well expand to 30 states within weeks, covering a majority of Americans.
The public is growing weary of arguments against gay marriage. While there was little reaction to Monday’s ruling, challengers decried judicial activism, which would delegitimize the ruling. Perhaps most vocal, Texas Senator and presidential hopeful Ted Cruz was quick to admonish the court, calling the ruling “judicial activism at its worst.” While Cruz is not wrong to remain alert to the consequences of judicial activism, he should tread carefully when it comes to rulings on civil liberties.
Many arguments against the “redefinition” of marriage and the Supreme Court’s ruling echo arguments heard during the civil rights movement. Those who opposed the ruling on Brown v. Board of Education, which ended segregation in public schools, also lamented judicial activism as playing an irresponsible role.
Current arguments against same-sex marriage are as baseless as the ones made in response to the civil rights movement. In a recent example, Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit Court addressed the only “rationale that the states put forth with any conviction” as being “so full of holes that it cannot be taken seriously.” This seems to be the consensus on most claims that decry gay marriage as a detriment to society.
Many also cite religious beliefs in defense of upholding “traditional marriage.” During his campaign for the Republican nomination in 2011, temporary frontrunner Senator Rick Santorum defended his opposition to same-sex marriage by placing himself as the victim. He stated, “So now I'm a bigot because I believe what the Bible teaches.” He’s right – Santorum is not a bigot because he believes in what the Bible teaches him. He does, however, represent the epitome of bigotry when he imposes his intolerant beliefs on others by advocating for anti-gay marriage laws as a politician. The United States was founded on a fundamental separation between church and state and should thus discount any and every religious argument against gay marriage. These arguments nevertheless persist, necessitating the need to further devalue them in court.
The near future bodes well for marriage equality. Soon same-sex couples in two-thirds of the country will likely be able to marry freely. Despite small hiccups since Monday’s ruling, like Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision to block an appeals court ruling that struck down a gay marriage restriction in Idaho, marriage equality’s inevitability was proven further in the lack of outcry from the Republican Party. Although Congress is currently out of session, a landmark ruling like Monday’s would be expected to invoke fervent attacks, such as those offered by Senator Cruz. However, the GOP was uncharacteristically quiet, potentially suggesting a conscious decision to capitulate in the fight against marriage equality. Republicans are undoubtedly aware of their disparate views on social issues and the negative affects they may have on national elections prospects.
With an unspoken surrender by the Republicans, and with a majority of states soon likely to recognize same-sex marriages, it will prove unlikely that the Supreme Court would overturn a lift on marriage restrictions in the states. However, instead of simply refusing to hear appeals on lifting the ban to marriage equality, the Supreme Court should affirm a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, as there are many states, primarily in the Deep South and Midwest, where lifting of restrictions seems distant. Nevertheless, the momentum of the national gay rights movement does not appear to be ceasing. Now tacitly backed by the highest court in the country, the movement will inexorably result in marriage equality becoming the law of the land.