The U.S. Supreme Court decision to declare gay marriage a constitutional right was historic and a joyous moment for gays, lesbians, their friends, families and allies. Conferring full marital rights on same-sex couples is a major step forward for civil rights in our country.
This ruling marks a glorious turn towards full acceptance and dignity for an estimated 3 million Americans who live in states that still barred gays from marriage.
So we celebrate the court’s decision announced Friday, which ends the state-by-state wrangling and the continuing attempts in conservative states to pass constitutional amendments to bar marriages between same-sex couples.
The divided court ruling, which prevailed by the thinnest of margins, shows how far and rapidly our nation has progressed in a few short years. Polls have shown a steady increase in public support for gay marriage, and a clear majority now favor it.
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President Obama described the 5-to-4 ruling as “justice that arrives like a thunderbolt,” and indeed the court’s finding came quickly when measured against the decades of slow and painful progress begun by gay activists after World War II. The Stonewall riot over police raids on a New York City gay bar was in 1969, and the price for coming out as gay or lesbian could still be very high for decades after that. Indeed, in many places, it still is.
But the sea-change in public opinion has happened more swiftly than anyone could have predicted. It was only in 2003 that Massachusetts became the first state to recognize same-sex marriages, and in 2009, voters made Washington the first state to affirm same-sex relationships at the ballot box by upholding a domestic partnership law.
Three years later in 2012 voters in our state and two others went further, embracing same-sex marriage through ballot measures. Everyone who voted for gay marriage in our state can feel proud of helping to accelerate this amazing national change.
Washington residents can also be proud that our state enacted protections against discrimination in housing and employment back in 2006. The Supreme Court victory should lend hope and energy to efforts in other states to extend these same protections to sexual minorities. Truly, the struggle for full equality will not be won until these rights are also protected nationwide.
But with this ruling, so much has changed for the better for so many people. Marriage is about more than love; as every married couple knows, it’s also about finances. Gay couples who marry in the 13 states now will be treated as such under tax codes, and other pension and estate rights will be conferred on them as has occurred in other states already recognizing LGBT marriages.
We remain, as a nation, full of contradictions about civil rights. The continuing struggle for racial equality, which has been underway for centuries rather than decades, is still a work in progress. We hope the closing words of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion may inspire all of us to work toward similar thunderbolts of justice that support the full human dignity of every American:
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”