Friday, June 26, 2015

Marriage is Finally Legal For All Americans

It is with great pleasure that I read the news this morning that the Supreme Court of the US has ruled that Gay Marriage is legal.

As I have written before, the majority of people in the US have been in favor of legalization of marriage for gays for a couple years now.  This is in clear contrast to the legalization of interracial marriage which took 30 years of legality to gain majority approval.  It was seriously not until the late 1990's that the majority approved of interracial marriage.  Of course, many people in the US still vehemently oppose gay marriage.  Rick Santorum described the decision as "Judicial Tyranny."

If you grew up in a place like I did, where interracial marriages were the norm (Nome Alaska, fyi) it might seem strange that until the late 90's most Americans still opposed interracial marriage.  But when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of interracial marriage in 1967 only 20% of the population approved of interracial marriage, and change was slow to come to the hearts of the majority.  Today 84% of Americans approve of interracial marriage, but most of that change happened over just the past 20 years.  When interracial marriage was legalized it truly was Judicial Tyranny.  It was also right, and just, but there was no way that the majority would have voted in favor.

I feel like the conservative anger at this decision has a lot to do with the fact that conservatives know that there is no rolling back this decision.  The majority is on the side of justice and equality when it comes to marriage.  The days when the numbers were on the side of those who wish to suppress homosexuals with the force of government are gone, but for conservative politicians this is a problem.  No politician can get elected without getting the support of their base.  The majority of conservative voters oppose equality for gays, even though the majority of America as a whole is in favor.  This means that there is nothing that conservative politicians can do to change the outcome, all they can do is ride the anger of their base.  You can rest assured that anger over gay rights will remain a caucusing issue for a while yet, but the anger will be politically impotent, which will likely make the anger burn hotter in the short term.

For conservatives the best option for venting that anger is to decry "Judicial Tyranny," even if polling suggests that the Supreme Court, in this case, is actually more accurately reflecting popular opinion.  

But why did the Supreme Court need to rule in favor of Gay Marriage if the majority was in favor?  The answer is of course my favorite political hobby-horse, division politics.  The US is not divided into two clear cut camps, the vast majority falls somewhere in the middle, but about half fall a little more conservative, and half fall a little more liberal.  To gain traction most politicians need to appeal to the more politically active people who might support them, and those people are usually more extreme than the middling majority.  So issues like Gay Marriage are a good way to make sharp divisive distinctions for politicians, and stumping on those issues gets the base mobilized.  

This means that even though the majority of the population is in favor of equality, a little over half of the elected legislators are beholden to a active minority that opposes equality.  In this case, division politics allowed a minority to block any legislation that might have legalized gay marriage.  But now the Supreme Court has moved, and that minority is not going to be able to put the genie back in the bottle.  I'd hardly call that "Judicial Tyranny."

This is good news.

There is a part of me that can't help but wish we could have had a vote, like Ireland, but I understand that the US political climate makes that too tall an order.  Our political system feeds on anger and fear on both sides, and a vote on an issue like marriage is ultimately asking people to vote on an issue of hope and fairness for the future.

But in any case, now that gay marriage is legal there is no way that a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage is going to pass.  Marriage equality is here.  Our country just got a little fairer.  And this is not an isolated thing either.  Despite what you may hear, our country is actually doing pretty well.  Our country is changing rapidly.  Feminism and civil rights, which were so very radical 50 years ago, are becoming the norm.  This same time period over the past 20 years that has seen the majority come to approve of gays and interracial marriage has also seen the precipitous drop in homicides and gun violence (yes, despite what you read in the news gun violence and homicides are at historically low levels in the US), crimes against children are down, the list goes on.  

For all the fear that plagues our politics and media, our society is actually improving.  Ironically, the same ubiquity of information that makes our society's problems seem worse seems to make our society more sensitive to the problems and awareness makes the problems less common.  Our modern connectedness is like a searchlight lighting up all the dark corners, and while the things we find in the dark corners may make us recoil, there are fewer places for bad things to hide.

This makes me hopeful.

And the legalization of gay marriage is another part of this sweeping change in our country, and it also makes me hopeful.  It leaves one less place for discrimination against homosexuality to hide.  Less than 20 years ago Matthew Shepard was beaten and tortured to death, and the defense was "gay panic."  That is emblematic of how rapid the change regarding homosexuality in this country has been, and just how bright the light shining into the dark corners is these days.

And now, I think it is tie to stop using the phrase "Gay Marriage."

It's just "Marriage" now.

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