Maybe you heard about this, but the Supreme Court has overturned the Defense of Marriage Act and, in the process, given Edith Windsor $350,000. Windsor filed suit against the federal government in 2010, arguing that DOMA unconstitutionally deprived her of a spousal exemption from the estate tax upon the death of her wife, Thea Spyer. This morning, the court ruled that DOMA “is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.” It also ruled that the plaintiffs in Hollingsworth v. Perry lacked standing, effectively driving a stake through the heart of California’s Proposition 8.
Today is a good day to be a gay person who wants to be married, or a straight, single person who fears marriage and wants gay people to go in there first and check it out. With no federal law to protect them, non-single straight people will see their marriages destroyed. In a statement presumably delivered from some kind of mount, Michele Bachmann said today’s decision would “undermine the best interests of children.” Except gay children and orphans who now have more people to adopt them—those children will be much happier, but the biological children of same-sex couples will suffer. She also said this:
Marriage was created by the hand of God. No man, not even a Supreme Court, can undo what a holy God has instituted.
Consider, for a moment, the insanity of a United States congresswoman making that statement. She essentially claims that religion is the supreme law of the land, and the federal government—the government to which she is an elected representative—is subordinate to it. Also her understanding of social anthropology is terrifying
But today, at least, Bachmann and her ilk are out of power. A Supreme Court that has issued a series of audacious rulings in recent years—heck, even in recent days—has sided with decency, and the bigots seem finally, firmly on the wrong side of history. The claim that allowing gay people to marry will somehow harm straight people who are married will be put to an experiential test, and it will surely fail.
Opponents of gay marriage will be thrown back on simple claims of values, as in the case of Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, who told the Times that “A culture can’t exist in the absence of the simple truth that there are differences between a mom and a dad and a husband and a wife. It’s like the law saying two plus two equals five.” It is like that, except you can put two things next to two other things and count them all, whereas saying that gender differences make gay marriage wrong is a normative assertion. You can’t say call it a “simple truth” unless you accept Brown’s underlying values.
When we disagree about values in this country, we either leave each other alone or put it to the government. Over the last two decades, certain people who supported certain values proved unwilling to leave their neighbors alone, and now they have been rebuffed by the Supreme Court.
Perhaps the most satisfying element of today’s decision was the degree to which homophobes brought their defeat upon themselves. Had they not pursued DOMA and a slough of other laws specifically depriving people of their rights, gay marriage might not have become such a big issue. Various bigot organizations brought the “threat” of gay marriage into mainstream political discourse with DOMA in 1996. They made it an electioneering tool in 2004. In the process, they forced millions of Americans to consider an unexamined prejudice.
As Bachmann observed, nobody agitated for gay marriage before 2000. It was only by trying to preempt it that professional homophobes drew attention to the absurdity of their own prejudice. Today is the culmination of a two-decade backfire. Bigots tried to enshrine bad values in American law, and the effort led Americans and our government to question a group of assumptions that contradicted the principles we hold dear.
Plenty of people are upset about the Supreme Court today. Many more, though, are elated to see SCOTUS make the right call on an issue we only recently realized we care about. Say what you will about we the people and our federal government, but this morning we did the right thing.