It’s been a week since the highest court in our nation's most populous state, California’s Supreme Court, handed down its persuasive ruling upholding the freedom to marry. A week since fairness and equality won out and many are wondering: what do we do now?
The answer: We defend the historic decision and the marriages that will commence in June. We do this by speaking out to everyone we know, particularly in California, about why marriage matters, how exclusion is wrong, why we personally care, and how we can all contribute.
We must refocus attention on the real question at hand, with efforts to undo this landmark victory already underway, what is the right outcome, and what will you do to achieve it.
Friends of equality must not hide behind the predictable chorus of lamentation about civil rights moving too fast, or attacks on judges for doing what they are supposed to do. Squabbles over process should not distract from the real stakes for real people -- whether the freedom to marry and couples' actual marriages are preserved or taken away.
The Court Did Its Job
The court not only did the right thing, it did its job -- upholding the Constitution against laws that fell short of constitutional requirements.
The decision came from a court with a reputation for being fair and cautious, indeed conservative. The New York Times recently reported that this court is the single most respected state court in America followed more often by its counterparts than any other. Six of the seven justices are Republican appointees. They ruled only after the legislature passed marriage bills not once, but twice, measures the governor vetoed saying that the judges should decide.
California’s Chief Justice Ronald George, originally made a judge by Ronald Reagan, held that the state's constitution protects “the right of the individual to establish a legally recognized family with the person of one's choice.” The court followed precedent, noting its own holding in Perez v. Sharp -- in which the California Supreme Court became the first court in the country to strike down race restrictions on marriage, in a decision sixty years ago this year. Perez held that "the essence of the right to marry is freedom to join in marriage with the person of one's choice."
In the most powerful refutation of the right-wing's customary attack on judges for fulfilling their role in the American system, which keeps us free and equal, the Chief Justice noted that the Constitution itself is the voice of the people:
“[T]he provisions of the California Constitution itself constitute the ultimate expression of the people’s will, and ... the fundamental rights embodied within that Constitution for the protection of all persons represent restraints that the people themselves have imposed…”
When judges apply those restraints to laws that fall short or politicians who trespass on the rights and protections guaranteed to us all, they are serving the people, and America.
In her concurring opinion, Associate Justice Joyce L. Kennard added:
“[T]he constitutionality of the marriage laws’ exclusion of same-sex couples is an issue particularly appropriate for decision by this court, rather than a social or political issue inappropriate for judicial consideration….The architects of our federal and state Constitutions understood that widespread and deeply rooted prejudices may lead majoritarian institutions to deny fundamental freedoms to unpopular minority groups, and that the most effective remedy for this form of oppression is an independent judiciary charged with the solemn responsibility to interpret and enforce the constitutional provisions guaranteeing fundamental freedoms and equal protection.”
It is the court’s duty to protect the Constitution, and uphold equality for all.
Thanks to the court's integrity, the people of California and the country will witness how families are helped and no one is hurt when equality wins out, lessons we already learned in Massachusetts.
In June, loving and committed couples regardless of race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation will be able to get government marriage licenses and secure for their commitment and family the respect, dignity, protections, and responsibilities that come with marriage. It will be a time to rejoice and honor the love and families around us, and the equality that California now champions.
We must defend this just and appropriate decision and these marriages joyously celebrated under law. Rights should not be put to a vote, but unfortunately they will in California this November if a proposed anti-gay constitutional amendment qualifies for the ballot.
People seeking to volunteer, recruit others, donate the needed money (California is a big state), and honor the marriages and our nation's commitment to justice should go to www.equalityforall.com to learn more. And then talk about why marriage matters, and ask others to get involved.
The court did its job. Now all of us must do ours.