By Uche Onyebadi
SAME-SEX marriages in the US are not a novelty. What is new is that last week, the U.S. Supreme Court affixed a stamp of legitimacy on such marriages anywhere in the country. Now, Mary can marry Maria, from New York to California, and from Arizona to Montana. In the same vein, James can take his lovely Jeremiah to a marriage registry anywhere in the United States and have a marriage official pronounce both men husband and wife, and they will be so recognized in the eyes of the law.
The 5-4 Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage amplified the ideological divided in the highest court in the United States. Quite expectedly, the more liberal justices concurred with the majority opinion. Chief Justice John Roberts led the conservative judges in their dissenting opinion. Interestingly, all three female justices, two of whom were nominated to the highest bench by President Barack Obama, cast their net with the decision to allow same-sex marriage.
In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy who had on previous occasions ruled in favour of gay couples being entitled to marry, wrote this: “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.”
He then examined the status of children of such couples and concluded that “Without the recognition, stability and predictability marriage offers, their children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser. They also suffer the significant material costs of being raised by unmarried parents, relegated through no fault of their own to a more difficult and uncertain family life. The marriage laws at issue here thus harm and humiliate the children of same-sex couples.”
Justice Kennedy was not done with his advocacy for same-sex couples. He confronted the huge constitutional question about same-sex marriages by arguing that “the issue before the court here is the legal question whether the Constitution protects the right of same-sex couples to marry.”
And his candid and unequivocal answer was that the U.S. constitution “grants them that right.”
Chief Justice Roberts did not mask his disagreement with Justice Kennedy over the constitutionality of same-sex marriage. According to the boss of the judicial arm of the U.S. government, “If you are among the many Americans — of whatever sexual orientation — who favour expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision. Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. 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.”
The other dissenting opinions equally had an adversarial tone. For instance, Justice Antonin Scalia was unimpressed with Justice Kennedy’s linguistic style in the decision and observed that “the opinion is couched in a style that is as pretentious as its content is egotistic…Of course the opinion’s showy profundities are often profoundly incoherent.”
Outside the court, President Obama, a self-acknowledged convert to the idea of the humaneness and propriety of same-sex marriage, added his voice to the chorus of “amen” to the majority decision that gay people had the right to marry. The president said that “Today, we can say, in no uncertain terms, that we have made our union a little more perfect.”
But where the president saw an inch toward perfection, his political opponents saw the trashing of the moral fibre of the U.S. Former governor of Arkansas and Republican Party’s presidential aspirant, Mike Huckabee, called the decision “one of the court’s most disastrous opinions” and vowed that “I will not acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch. We must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat.”
But among some of the Republican presidential candidates, the reality of the Supreme Court’s decision has sunk in. In his reaction to the ruling, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said in an interview that “Given the quickly changing tide of public opinion on this issue, I do not believe that an attempt to amend the U.S. Constitution could possibly gain the support of three-fourths of the states or a supermajority in the U.S. Congress.”
Senator Graham is realistic about this issue. Polls after polls in the U.S. show that one in every six Americans now believes that gay people have the right to marry one another. Before the Supreme Court last week, same-sex marriage was legitimate in 36 out of 50 U.S. states, either by judicial mandate or by law passed by the legislature.
That situation came a long way since Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004. Advocacy groups for gay rights are now commonplace in the U.S. But perhaps it is the coming out of the closet by several prominent people in the U.S. that has given the gay movement its greatest boost. In 2014, Apple’s CEO, Time Cook, openly declared his gay status and became the first top CEO do to so in the U.S. He boldly declared that “I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.”
Earlier in 2012, CNN’s prominent news anchor, Anderson Cooper, came out and publicly wrote that “The fact is, I’m gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn’t be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud.” MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, is also gay.
Why do gay and lesbian couples want to get married? The web site “Freedom to Marry” simply says this about people of different sexual orientation: “Marriage matters to gay people in similar ways that it matters to everyone. Gay and lesbian couples want to get married to make a lifetime commitment to the person they love and to protect their families.” But to people like the governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, who is an avowed opponent of same-sex marriage, “Marriage between a man and a woman was established by God, and no earthly court can alter that.” That was his response to the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage.
Folks like Jindal also believe that marriage is an issue that is best left to the states to handle. Last week, the Supreme Court made it a federal issue and endorsed it.