As the Supreme Court takes on the issue of marriage equality, it must act to give lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens and their families the rights they’ve been denied for too long.
The Supreme Court convened last week to address two historic cases: Hollingsworth v. Perry and United States v. Windsor. The first case was a review of California’s Perry v. Schwarzenegger that found Proposition 8, the amendment that ended same-sex marriage in California, unconstitutional. The second case intended to determine the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, signed by former President Bill Clinton in 1996, that nationally defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman. While many are championing these cases as the next major step for LGBT rights, the possible outcomes of the cases are unclear.
It seems highly unlikely that the court will make decisions that will radically endorse or refute marriage equality nationally. Even if Prop 8 is struck down, the court could rule only to validate the marriages of those who originally filed the suit or just the couples married in California during the five months same-sex marriage was legal. However, the DOMA decision could decisively eliminate the law, uphold the law, or the justices could choose to narrowly endorse federal benefits for same-sex couples without officially identifying marriage as a fundamental right. An official decision is expected to be made by June.
To the people, these rulings may seem distant and inconsequential. Americans are increasingly accepting the assertion that the right to marry is inevitable and does not need to be decided immediately. This is a dangerous idea. Justice Sonia Sotomayor said, “If the issue is letting the states experiment and letting the society have more time to figure out its direction, why is taking a case now the answer?” These cases must be addressed, because a majority of Americans, the president and a working majority in the Senate, including two Republican Senators, support marriage equality. Americans have been publicly organizing for LGBT equality since the 1969 Stonewall Riots. Queer Americans are all about experimentation but not in a way that would prevent California couples and their children to achieve equality under the law.
Justice Samuel Anthony Alito attempted to formulate a parallel between technology and gay and lesbian partnerships by saying, “You want us to step in and render a decision based on an assessment of the effects of this institution, which is newer than cell phones or the Internet?” I genuinely hope that all Americans, straight and queer, are able to understand that gay partners have been raising children for far longer than anyone has owned a cell phone or used Firefox. The effects of this institution are already clear: marriage equality enables couples to utilize exclusive benefits, such as health care, to create stable and financially secure family units.
As a queer person, a member of Created Equal and a citizen of New Jersey, which is being bombarded with conservative ideology endorsing putting civil marriage rights on a ballot, I am at odds with these justices who are reluctant to act. The LGBT equality movement has gained an enormous amount of attention and support that is at risk of deflation by compassion fatigue. A lack of urgency will result in a death of action. Making gay Americans wait until some indefinite social landmark is passed is not only dangerous for the movement as a whole but also discriminatory by treating the interests of queer people as less than other contemporary legislative quarrels.
Ken Robertson is sophomore film, photography and visual art major. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.