Steve received an email the other day from a colleague announcing the birth of her son Brinton. She attached a photo of a red-faced tyke in a striped stocking cap, and co-workers responded with a cascade of “wows” and “bravos.”
Ordinary family. Obvious fanfare. Except for one thing: Brinton has two moms – Nikki and Shelly Layser.
The baby was born 10 days before the Supreme Court decided to rule on the issue of gay marriage. He won’t know it for a while, but Brinton and countless other children with same-sex parents are spurring a civil rights revolution.
These parents are our friends and relatives. They sit at the next desk, live on the next street. And their devotion to each other and to their children is unmistakable and undeniable.
Opponents of same-sex marriage have it exactly wrong. These families are not undermining marriage; they are endorsing it. They don’t reject “traditional values”; they embrace them.
“I don’t think any factor has been more important in influencing public opinion – and, I dare say, the opinions of the Supreme Court – than Joe and Jane American who happen to be gay and live down the street and are living their lives openly and honestly with their friends, neighbors and family members,” said Gregory Angelo of the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay-rights organization, to Politico. “It’s trickled up more than it’s trickled down.”
The Supreme Court still has to speak, of course, and four justices clearly oppose the legalization of gay marriage. But five seem to support it, and at this point, it’s hard to imagine the court reversing a movement that has gathered so much momentum.
In the latest Gallup poll, 55 percent said same-sex unions “should be recognized by the law as valid.” That approval rating is up from 27 percent in 1996 and 40 percent in 2008. And it will keep increasing, since 3 out of 4 people under age 30 support legalization.
Gay marriage is already sanctioned in 36 states, where about 70 percent of Americans live, largely because a raft of lower federal courts have ratified same-sex unions since a critical Supreme Court decision in 2013.
That opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, struck down a federal law that barred the government from conveying benefits to legally married gay couples. That statute “demeans” couples like Nikki and Shelly, and “humiliates” their children, Kennedy wrote.
He’s entirely correct, but the opposition to gay marriage remains powerful. One argument is religious: that the Bible says marriage must involve a man and a woman. The other is practical: that only straight couples can procreate in the normal way and raise children in a healthy environment.
But the Bible could hardly anticipate the modern medical advances that enabled Shelly to conceive Brinton. And straight couples are not exactly doing a brilliant job of childrearing.
Twenty-eight percent of children under 18 live with only one parent at any given time; more than half will live that way at some point. Gay couples desperate to marry can do better than that.
The other argument against a Supreme Court edict is that the issue should be left to the states and the democratic process. This was the point stressed by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, the only federal court to rule against gay marriage, and usually judicial restraint is a good policy to follow.
But not when basic rights are at stake. Majority rule is not an answer to every problem. The whole point of an independent judiciary is to protect unpopular people and causes that cannot win in the political marketplace.
Critics like to compare gay marriage to abortion – an issue that continues to generate passionate opposition more than 40 years after the Supreme Court legalized the procedure. Even Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal icon, has worried that the court moved “too far, too fast” to proclaim abortion rights and handed opponents “a great organizing tool” to rally around.
But the comparison does not hold up. To opponents, abortion is murder – a galvanizing concept with identifiable victims: unborn children. There are no victims in the gay marriage debate, no “great organizing tool” to exploit.
In fact, the reverse is true. The only potential victims here are people like little Brinton and his two moms. As Justice Kennedy wrote, they risk being demeaned and humiliated until they achieve the most fundamental right of all: the right to be ordinary. To be happy.
To be like everyone else.
Steve and Cokie Roberts can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.