For gay and lesbian Americans, the ruling took entirely too long. For many other Americans, it came along quicker than anyone could’ve expected.
Either way, #LoveWins.
Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, and Sacramento native Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and four appointees of Democratic presidents, same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states. Less than an hour after the ruling was issued, marriages already were being performed in Georgia, one of the 14 mostly Midwestern and Southern states where the practice had remained illegal until Friday.
The gravity of the court’s 5-4 decision cannot be overestimated. Gay rights, like civil rights before it, is the defining social justice fight of our time. And as with both, it often takes big legal declarations to permanently bend the arc of history and the moral universe toward justice.
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We suspect that, someday, this case on same-sex marriage, Obergefell v. Hodges, will be looked upon with the same history-changing awe as Loving v. Virginia and Brown v. Board of Education.
What happened Friday was, in part, a victory for demography. Led by the youngest among us, public opinion has shifted rapidly over the past five years, more rapidly than any public policy issue in recent history. Naysayers remain, of course, particularly among Republicans running for president, but they are in the minority.
The decision also was a victory for democracy, proof that, as President Barack Obama said from the White House, “real change is possible” because a “shift in hearts and minds is possible.”
As fast as that shift happened – it was only in 2003 that the Supreme Court struck down laws banning sodomy in Texas – it was neither bloodless, nor politically expedient for the gay community or its allies.
There were successes, followed by devastating failures, followed by successes.
People died, among them San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, assassinated in 1978, long before many Americans knew there was a gay rights movement. Far more suffered indignities, as a patchwork of laws emerged that allowed same-sex couples to have their marriages recognized in some states, but not others.
California was a leader, albeit an uneven one. Its role in the victory is cause for a collective sense of pride.
Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion for Obergefell v. Hodges and other cases affirming equality, is a Californian who was placed on the high court in 1988 by President Ronald Reagan, another Californian.
Upon taking office as San Francisco mayor, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom forced the issue by decreeing in February 2004 that his city start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. "Today a barrier to true justice has been removed,” he said on Feb. 11, 2004. It was, of course, a premature declaration of victory.
In 2008, there was Proposition 8, the initiative in which 52 percent of the electorate voted to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry. And there were lawsuits, including one that reached the Supreme Court, but failed to resolve the issue in 2013.
How things have changed.
So, yes, the Supreme Court’s ruling is certainly a cause for celebration, as the gay community and its allies will do this weekend at pride festivals in San Francisco and New York. But the battle isn’t over.
As the families of the nine black parishioners who were gunned down by a white man in Charleston this month would surely admit, achieving equality in the courts doesn’t always mean achieving equality in the streets. Just as racism has survived — and, in some corners, thrived — all of these years after a string of court rulings on civil rights, so will homophobia.
There are states that legally allow companies to fire people just for being gay or lesbian, or refuse to hire them in the first place. These are some of the same states that refuse to enact hate crime statutes, or change policies that marginalize transgender Americans, particularly when it comes to access to health care and, in some cases, a restroom. There are parents who still turn a blind-eye to bullying. And, even in midtown Sacramento, there are still people who get attacked by someone yelling homophobic slurs.
Those are the next battlegrounds.
But for now, we celebrate the incredible journey that has led America here, to full marriage equality.