JEFF KOVALESKI: Court allows more time for acceptance of gays
I don’t remember exactly what I said in the Bloomington studios of WFIU-FM last December.
“Noon Edition" host Bob Zaltsberg, editor of The Herald-Times, asked what I believed would be a top story in 2013. “Same-sex marriage,” I said.
The Supreme Court would announce in June its rulings on constitutional challenges to the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8, I said. And those rulings would influence the state Legislature’s pursuit of an amendment to the Indiana constitution, defining marriage as between one man and one woman.
I said 20 years from now, 50 years from now, Americans would identify 2013 as a milestone in the gay rights movement.
I said it haltingly, in fits and starts — as if my larynx were a gummed-up carburetor. But my analysis was good.
The justices Wednesday struck down DOMA and afforded legally married same-sex couples the same federal benefits enjoyed by other married Americans — as long as those gay and lesbian couples live in states that recognize their unions.
The Supreme Court also let stand a trial court’s determination on Proposition 8. California’s constitutional ban on gay marriage was passed after the state legalized gay and lesbian unions. The trial court said that turnabout was unconstitutional.
Justices didn’t give gay rights advocates what they wanted: a decision making same-sex marriage legal in every state. But they did give them what they most needed.
Intentionally or incidentally, the justices allowed America’s increasing acceptance of homosexuality to continue before they hear a case challenging the constitutionality of legislative bans on gay marriage.
And the Supreme Court will hear one in the next few years, I suspect.
In 2003, 32 percent of Americans polled by the Pew Research Center said they supported same-sex marriage. Last month, 51 percent of those polled said they did. Those percentages favorable to gay marriage will continue to climb.
Attitudes are changing rapidly because the debate increasingly is taking place in media and in statehouses, in corporate boardrooms and in the Boy Scouts. It’s taking place within communities of faith. Within my community of faith: the Quakers.
Some Episcopalian, Lutheran, Mennonite, Pentecostal, Presbyterian and Quaker churches — not all, but some — bless same-sex unions. Others within those denominations will not.
The issue touched off a years-long discussion about the autonomy of individual congregations within the Indiana Yearly Meeting of Friends. And it resulted in a schism. Several congregations will end their affiliation with the yearly meeting beginning next month.
Acceptance of homosexuality still is not widespread. Wednesday’s ruling invigorated opponents across the country and in Indiana. Gov. Mike Pence and other leaders in the Statehouse said they expect to approve, for a second time, the proposed constitutional amendment that effectively bans same-sex marriage in Indiana. If they do, and they likely will, Hoosiers will vote the amendment up or down in November 2014.
“I believe marriage is the union between a man and a woman and is a unique institution worth defending in our state and nation,” Pence said Wednesday after the Supreme Court rulings. “For thousands of years, marriage has served as the glue that holds families and societies together and so it should ever be.”
And marriage will. It just won’t be so narrowly defined. Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative, foresees a broader definition of marriage, and he’s not happy about it.
“It takes real cheek for today’s majority to assure us, as it is going out the door, that a constitutional requirement to give formal recognition to same-sex marriage is not at issue here — when what has preceded that assurance is a lecture on how superior the majority’s moral judgment in favor of same-sex marriage is to the Congress’ hateful moral judgment against it,” he said.
“I promise you this: The only thing that will ‘confine’ the court’s holding is its sense of what it can get away with.”
If I’m asked back to WFIU for another year-in-review edition of “Noon Edition,” I’ll predict challenges to state constitutions that prohibit gay marriage in the coming year. Wednesday’s Supreme Court rulings only invite them.
And as a few weave their way through the judicial system, more Americans will discover family members they love and respect are gay. More faith communities will welcome gay and lesbian couples as members and bless their unions. More corporations will offer family health care benefits to gay and lesbian employees.
In a few short years, state legislatures will be prohibited from codifying inequality, I’ll tell Bob Zaltsberg.
I only hope I can say it so clearly.
Jeff Kovaleski is managing editor of the Kokomo Tribune. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KTeditorjeff.