There was joy in the streets of Dublin as the announcement was made voters overwhelmingly chose to change the Constitution in Ireland to allow for same-sex civil marriage. It was reported the vote was 1,201,607 for and 734,300 against. The population of Ireland is 4.5 million and 84 percent of the nation identifies as Catholic. This is an unprecedented step forward for LGBT equality as Ireland is the first nation to approve marriage equality by a vote of the people.
In the United States most individual states are much larger than the entire country of Ireland. We don’t have national referenda like they do. So while nearly all polling is now showing close to 60 percent of Americans support marriage equality, were we to continue to leave it to individual states to decide many would still say no which is why the issue is in front of the Supreme Court. It is also the case many believe the rights of a minority should never be left to a vote of the majority.
As was the case in Loving v. Virginia more than 50 years ago when the Supreme Court decided inter-racial marriage was a right guaranteed under the Constitution, the court in Obergefell v. Hodges is being asked to decide whether same-sex marriage is also a right under the Constitution. In this case, the justices will be looking at two issues: whether the Constitution of the United States implicitly allows same-sex marriage and, if not, do same-sex marriages in states that allow them need to be recognized in other states that don’t. If the court decides they are implicitly allowed by the Constitution then individual states can’t vote to ban them under their own constitutions.
The court in their decision will not be impinging on any religion. They will not be instructing any particular religion to perform or recognize same-sex marriages; rather that those same-sex couples who marry under civil law will be accorded every benefit and have every responsibility of anyone else marrying under civil law. I hope Justice Scalia will take note of all this but I wouldn’t recommend anyone hold their breath for that.
Currently by votes in some states, legislative action in some, and court rulings in others, 37 states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriages. Recently, when officiating at a same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stated she is declaring the couple married under rights granted by the both the Constitution of the United States and the laws of the District of Columbia. In many ways, Justice Ginsburg has made it clear how she will vote on this issue. Many are hoping Justice Kennedy will vote with her.
Watching the crowds in Dublin rejoice when the decision was announced, you can only anticipate the celebration that will happen in June, both in front of the Supreme Court and across the nation, if the decision is what most anticipate and civil same-sex marriage is declared legal across the land, protected by the Constitution.
If the decision of the court is positive, then the definitive book on the fight for marriage equality can finally be written. Thus far very few of the stories have been put on paper and some of those that have aren’t very accurate. There are those who fought in obscurity for years to reach this day and their stories must be told. The state-by-state fights and hundreds of leaders in each of those states need to be recognized if history is to be accurately portrayed. While a few couples, and they are brave, became the faces of the movement many fought valiantly behind the scenes, day in and day out for many years and without them all the successes wouldn’t have occurred.
What must be recognized if we win this battle is how far and how fast the civil rights movement of the LGBT community has progressed since the Stonewall Riots in 1969. We must remember while we hope to have our right to marriage recognized this June, women still aren’t explicitly recognized in the Constitution and the nation never passed an Equal Rights Amendment.
It can only be hoped in our lifetime that a comprehensive civil and human rights bill for the LGBT community will be passed by Congress, that our culture will evolve to the stage where women are actually treated as equal and we see an end to racism and discrimination.
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBT and Democratic Party activist.