Earlier this morning marriage equality became the law of the land now in the District of Columbia and thirty states, including my home state of Wisconsin. This is a moment I did not ever expect to see in my lifetime. My body, heart, and soul don’t know how to react. One moment I am beaming in elation and the next I am almost crying. Something as simple as the ability to get married has been denied to me my entire life and now, at 57, that door has opened.
But my elation about that is tempered with the knowledge that in twenty states people like me are still denied this most basic of rights. In a couple dozen states people like me can be fired from their jobs for no other reason than the fact that they are gay, and that is legal in those states. There are still transgender citizens who cannot marry their partners. It is also tempered by the fact that the reason same-sex marriage is now legal in Wisconsin and an additional ten states is that the Supreme Court declined to hear five cases about marriage equality that were before it. They had the opportunity to make an historic decision along the lines of Loving vs. Virginia and declined to act.
Declining to hear the current cases left the lower court rulings standing and in all of the cases involved the most recent court rulings had affirmed marriage equality. It was the easy way out for the Court. It meant they did not have to decide once and for all–which both sides were encouraging them to do–whether states could deny the right of marriage to certain citizens. They haven’t yet released their reasoning, but given that it is a conservative court my bet is that they will say that marriage has always been something left to the states. What this means is that there is a chance that the other twenty states can continue to disallow marriage between partners of the same sex. The court had an opportunity to go down in history on the side of human rights and justice and instead simply passed. They could have made marriage equality the law across the nation and instead chose to remain silent on the constitutionality of marriage bans.
The Supreme Court could still take up a case later, particularly if a federal court becomes the first one to deny marriage equality, as then there would be federal courts disagreeing with each other and that would then make it more likely and necessary that the Supreme Court intervene. In the meantime, though, they took the easy way out. Either way marriage equality was advanced. If they had agreed to take the cases they knew they could not decide against equality. This way they just slowed it down a bit.
Regardless of the Supreme Court’s reasoning in declining to hear the cases the fact is that marriage equality is now the law in thirty of the fifty states. It may not be the most important issue in history–maybe not even to the queer community–but it is nevertheless hugely significant. While some queer people and liberals thought it was a waste to pursue marriage equality instead of some other basic rights (such as employment) the marriage issue resonated not just with gay folks but with the general public. Everyone knows someone who is gay or lesbian and to see committed couples, those with children, people who clearly love each other be denied the right to marry didn’t make sense to most of the public. Advancing marriage equality also advanced understanding of other discrimination and it humanized the LGBT community.
I am still going back and forth between joy about the situation in Wisconsin and the other ten states that now have marriage equality and my sadness that the Court refused to take a definitive stand. Marriage equality across the nation is clearly inevitable. It is now just a question of how much longer before the entire nation is in agreement on this. Then the question becomes how long before queer people are equal in every sense of the word. There is work still to do.