So that happened. Friday the American LGBTQ community walked on the moon. We will all remember where we were when we heard the news that, at long last, we had finally overcome. I was in my living room when I glanced at CNN, knelt down, and cried.
I’d love to say that I waited 29 years for marriage equality to be the law of the land. But during my first Gay and Lesbian Youth of New York meeting in November 1986 all I really remember is counting the floor tiles and wondering whether it was legal for 100 gay teens to be in the same room together. Through four years of Saturday-into-Sunday bonding via rap groups, steering committee meetings, and taking over Greenwich Village diners en masse only to leave penny tips (ah, youth), the most we hoped for is an end to oppression and the ability to choose how we led our lives. But back then marriage equality was so outside the envelope it was an easy joke on prime-time TV, nothing more.
We’ve come a long a way. Many people on both sides of the marriage debate underestimate how far. Now that Gay Pride weekend is over and the confetti is cleaned up after Friday’s SCOTUS ruling that marriage equality is a Constitutionally guaranteed fundamental human right, think about what that means. It was five decades ago the last time SCOTUS rules so monumentally on human rights. While bigotry still exists in force so great that wingnut Caucasian-American terrorists are still attacking their Black-American brothers and sisters and burning down Southern churches, the fact is that the idea of racial segregation is beyond the understanding of most living Americans. Not all, incredibly sadly. But most.
In the same way, five decades from now, same-sex marriages will be so common on TV, at the movies, around the dinner table, in the nation’s schools, and in most likely most of your families, that it won’t be something that’s accepted with any great will anymore. It will simply be something that is. A fact of life. A thing whose battle to become ordinary and mundane will mystify Americans fifty years hence.
Most Americans, anyway. In 2065, I’m sure there will still be American terrorists trying forcefully to shove the LGBTQ community back into the closet. Their ancestors of today are certainly sore losers. You can’t easily fight a Supreme Court ruling. By definition, SCOTUS has the final say. Bigoted state-level leaders are politically posturing for all their worth right now, suggesting ideas that will never occur–like eliminating all state-sanctioned marriage or doing away with SCOTUS entirely. The same types of desperate calls to nonsensical action happened after the Civil Rights Act came to be.
How well did that work out for Alabama? How well do you think it’s going to work out now?
The truth of the matter is, simply, that marriage equality opponents aren’t used to being on the losing side of a debate about fairness. Since Friday, for every bible-waving bigot claiming that marriage equality is an assault on Christian Americans, there’s been meme–or twenty–flying around Facebook to point out how badly those opponents misread the Christian Bible, misunderstand the separation of Church and State and the intent of America’s founding fathers, and are ignorant about the content of the Constitution, itself. It would be laughable if the it weren’t so clear that marriage equality’s loudest opponents are so ignorant about the America they’ve been living in all along.
It has never been an American value for religious doctrine to take precedence over secular law. America was actually founded on the opposite doctrine–that religion has no bearing on our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the realm of the civil state. No matter how much you may dislike the concept of same-sex marriage, how deeply you believe that God and/or your religious denomination rejects marriage equality, or how strongly you want your religious beliefs to determine civil rights for other Americans, none of that matters.
The Bible thumpers in this debate, as they generally do, take it upon themselves to speak for all Christians, and even all people of faith. We must remember there are millions of other Americans of faith–Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and beyond–who find the SCOTUS ruling and the arrival of marriage equality to be right, just, and holy in the eyes of a God completely mystified by the concept of homophobia and bigotry.
The problem isn’t God or religion. The problem is bigots, and always has been. As societal change continues to roll forward from the SCOTUS ruling, the most momentous change isn’t the coming legal recognition of millions of loving couples and loving families. It’s the fact that it’s gotten that much harder to be an out-in-public bigot.
Justice Alito’s dissent gets right to the point on this: “The decision will also have other important consequences. It will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.”
Well, yes. Just like the SCOTUS decisions supporting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal to deny the Constitutional rights of other Americans, impossible to use personal or religious beliefs to justify withholding those rights, and socially unacceptable to continue to call for those rights to be taken away, so does Obergefell v. Hodges. That’s how social progress works.
It is your fundamental right to believe whatever you wish about God, gays, marriage, and America. But if marriage equality makes you feel persecuted on religious grounds, you might want to take a civics course before sharing your opinion publicly. Because like it or night, on Friday, the definition of bigotry widened in America.
And speaking as a person of faith, I believe God has been waiting for us to get there for a long, long time.