Grumpy about gay marriage

I was thrilled when I learned today of the Supreme Court’s decision that banning gay marriage is unconstitutional. Gay people are entitled to equal protection. They are equal to me, a straight person, when it comes to binding themselves to the loves of their lives in marriage.

It makes me seriously grumpy that this concept is big news. It makes me even more grumpy when I hear people wondering why I, a straight person, even care about the rights of gay people. Seriously?

* * * * * * * *

When I was in law school and in my mid-20’s, Anthony and I spent the Christmas holidays with my parents in California, which means my brothers and their families also congregated there. I don’t know what funky business was in the air that particular holiday, but it turned into a rip-roaring fight that ended with me not visiting again for five years. (That was a mistake, by the way. I should have relented much sooner, and I regret those lost years.)

One of the things we fought about was GAY. A day or two before Christmas, my college friend (pseudonymous) Ellen drove from the bay area to visit with me in Stockton. She brought along her partner, (pseudonymous) Kristen. I was delighted that Ellen was in a happy relationship. My family was warm and pleasant upon meeting them, which is our way. But on Christmas day, things unraveled. All sorts of homophobic comments started spilling out. Alcohol was no doubt a factor. I shouldn’t have been shocked to hear people saying that being gay was wrong, or against nature, or just gross, or whatever it was they were saying, but it upset me very much because I felt like it was because they had met my GAY friend. They were passive aggressively messaging me, I thought, and putting down my delightful and good-hearted friend. I couldn’t stand it.

I was a lawyer in training, so I lashed out. I remember practically screaming at the people I love most in the world, along these lines: Ellen and Kristen are responsible members of society who graduated from college, have jobs, pay their taxes, have never been in prison, and are not drug addicts, WHICH IS MORE THAN I CAN SAY FOR SOME MEMBERS OF THIS FAMILY! Who are we to judge them??

I remember someone adding that it’s a sin, and I got really incensed. I attacked again. Not so long ago, I argued, the law and our culture said exactly the same thing about mixed race marriages. People would have called us half-breed mongrel dogs, born of an evil marriage against the laws of God! Our parents wouldn’t have been allowed to marry!! DO YOU AGREE WITH THAT???

My mom got really mad at me then. Later that night, she apologized for only telling me to shut up, but she explained why. “You were winning, Carla. You’re better at arguing. You should have stopped.”

I may have been better at shouting down people, but the best lines of the evening didn’t go to me. I remember my sister-in-law sitting peacefully (she’s always peaceful) and waiting for a quiet moment. She said gently, “I just think… If someone is lucky enough to find someone they love, we should just be happy for them.” It was so kind, accepting, compassionate — everything this whole journey, ending with the Supreme Court’s ruling, is all about.

The other Oscar-winning line went to my own Anthony, who in one angry moment raised a didactic finger and announced, “I guarantee you, statistically speaking SOMEONE in this family is gay!”

That was a conversation ender.

The entire evening was almost a relationship ender. I guess it was one of those moments when I realized gay rights really mattered to me, not because I’m gay or because of my friends, but simply because I believe the prejudices against gay people are founded in nothing more than ignorance and fear, and are morally reprehensible.

* * * * * * * * * *

There’s a little book I read in law school, called “Should Trees Have Standing” and written by a law professor named Christopher Stone, that changed the way I saw the world. You can read the entire text here. There’s a lot of legal talk in it, but it’s a great read.

Professor Stone was addressing the question of whether the environment — the earth — should have rights in our legal system, but his ideas percolated up in my mind unbidden today as I marveled at the Supreme Court’s decision. Stone begins by reflecting on Darwin’s observation “that the history of man’s moral development has been a continual extension in the objects of his ‘social instincts and sympathies'”, moving from caring only about himself to a broader concern for others, including even ‘useless members of society” and animals. Stone observed that the law has experienced a parallel development, gradually extending rights to those who used to have no rights at all — such as children, women, blacks, Chinese, Jews — and even to inanimate beings such as corporations. (The Supreme Court knows all about that last one, since its conservative members decided corporations are people.)

It’s in this context that I celebrate the acceptance of gay marriage in America — not only in its own right, but also as a proxy for the journey that Professor Stone described, which has brought us to a place where slavery is long dead, apartheid has been rejected, women and poor people can vote, children have rights, inter-racial marriages are allowed, and on and on. We advance because eventually the right people in power realize a simple truth: we should care about each other because we should just care about each other. Justice Kennedy’s decision today represents one of humanity’s many little steps forward in search of this truth, as we embrace a broader view of justice, parity, and acceptance across age, gender, race, nationality, religion, sexuality, and wealth.

I know there will always be reactionary backward lurches, but today’s news re-energizes my hope that members of the human race can bind our lives together despite our differences — to each other, to the environment, to the earth. If we don’t destroy ourselves first, maybe there’s even hope for some lasting peace.

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3 thoughts on “Grumpy about gay marriage

  1. I like what you wrote here, and I agree that the government has no business interfering in personal relationships. That, after all, is one of the greatest principles of this nation. However, as a lawyer, I have to ask you if it was not irresponsible of the Supreme Court to make such a sweeping ruling? Did they overstep their bounds in legislating, instead of deciding on the constitutionality of a previous court ruling? If the Supreme Court can now legislate, shouldn’t we Americans be slightly concerned that they have upset to system of checks and balances in which we once upon a time could take pride? If there is in the future an overwhelming conservative majority, does this now set precedent for the pendulum to swing the other way? That is the only thing that concerns me about this decision. I think that the government should refrain from passing such judgments or limitations on the personal liberties of the people of America; however, I’d like to see it done through the correct routes and not done in such a manner where it could possibly be overturned by another majority with its own ambitions.

    • I hear your point, and I do agree that this was a very aggressive and activist decision. I haven’t buried my head in constitutional jurisprudence (or ANY jurisprudence for that matter) in many years, so I can’t mount a precedent-based argument, but it seems to me that interpreting the scope and meaning of a constitutional provision is exactly what the S Ct is supposed to do, and I wouldn’t call that legislating. I don’t see how this is any different than the Loving decision, or even Roe v Wade. Every time the S Ct issues a decision effecting a sweeping social change, there’s a lot of fear – but mostly things have gone alright. Nor am I concerned about the S Ct upsetting checks and balances. Those went much further akilter when large corporations became people in politics and large donors were allowed unchecked purchase power over our politicians. I fear anonymous corporations and rich people more than I will ever fear the supremes. Legally irresponsible of the Supremes? I wouldn’t call it that — activist for sure, but that’s a school of legal thought that’s always present in our judiciary. I don’t want a legal system that woodenly and arbitrarily follows canons and rules, but one that lives in both law and equity, facing the realities of the current generation’s challenges. Activist decisions like yesterday’s sometimes give our society exactly the poke it needs to get to where we already know we’re headed. If a future court concludes that there isn’t after all a fundamental marital right that applies to gay people, then I guess we cross that bridge as we get there. That push-and-tug goes on to this day with abortion rights, and our system doesn’t seem to be collapsing. And in the end, I’m for marriage equality, so I’ll take it however we can get it. Good facts, bad law? I guess we’ll see.

      • Thank you for your reply. I had not considered it in light of other such moves like Roe v Wade, but your point made me realize that, naturally, this would not be the only such case in history. And I have to agree that our government has made some other deeply troubling decisions. I do not believe, as some do, that the sky has fallen over our country, nor do I think our constitution has been trampled underfoot. You are indeed correct that we are better served by remembering that the framers most likely intended it to be an adaptable constitution and that we would be best served by such bodies that have to continually assess the status quo and make changes where applicable… anyhow, thanks for your answer.

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