By ALICE BALDYS
On Monday, Oct. 6 the Supreme Court of the United States declined requests to hear cases questioning the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans in five states. As a result, traditional marriage beliefs that motivate bans have not found protection under U.S. law. Moreover, it appears U.S. law favors equality and nondiscrimination over restrictive and narrow definitions of marriage. This surprising move on the part of the Supreme Court allowed rulings in favor of same-sex marriage to stand in Virginia, Utah, Oklahoma, Indiana and Wisconsin.
James Esseks, the lawyer in charge of the American Civil Liberties Union legal team on gay marriage called the dismissal “a watershed moment for the entire country.”
Speculation points to the decision as one that satisfied both conservative and liberal leanings on the court bench. With the swing vote of Justice Anthony Kennedy assumed to be going in favor of same-sex marriage, it is being said that conservatives did not have enough votes to get the result they wanted in a Supreme Court case.
At the same time, leader of the liberal justices, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, seemed unwilling to push the country into a ruling without demonstrated support for social and political change from most states. This, combined with the unanimous decisions of numerous appellate courts against bans on same sex marriage, set up the high court’s refusal to hear these cases. Currently 30 states allow same-sex marriage.
Five additional states are currently hearing cases over same-sex marriage bans. If these states reach similar ruling, this could make the number of states that allow same-sex marriage reach as many as thirty-five.
It has been a long time coming, but Virginia is finally able to join states that allow same-sex marriage.
The first same-sex marriage in Virginia occurred in Richmond and Charlottesville around 1 p.m. on Monday. Governor Terry McAuliffe responded by tweeting, “Today’s ruling is a long overdue moment for our Commonwealth and country. Equality for all men and women regardless of their race, color, creed or sexual orientation is intrinsic to the values that make us Virginians.”
What was inevitable is finally happening: same-sex marriage is being accepted in states by default. Americans are finally realizing one person cannot dictate who another one loves and that denying minorities legal rights is simply unethical.
Providing access to family members in emergencies, medical care and a means to settle legal disputes has long been the priority both in the public health system and the judiciary. It is clear that failing to recognize existing same-sex couples does not stop them from being together. Nowhere in the Constitution does it say marriage must be between a man and a woman.
Not recognizing same sex-marriage is denying the fundamental legal rights of U.S. citizens and places LGBT citizens on the fringe of society, rather than allowing them to be a part of the larger whole. Americans are gradually catching up to the realization that the benefits to society of bringing sexual minority groups inside an umbrella of a larger society’s legal and health system far outweigh the costs.
Members of the University of Mary Washington’s People for the Rights of Individuals of Sexual Minorities club were encouraged by the Supreme Court’s actions.
“Marriage equality is a tremendous step forward, and we [Americans] have a lot more pressing issues like homelessness and mental health, but it is a great step forward,” said Senior English and history double major Sarah Palmer.
Sophomore biology major Sarah Heisey said she was thrilled to hear the news.
“Old family friends called me and asked me to be their maid of honor,” she said. “It’s good news.”
While the decision was not an outright federal mandate for the legalization of same-sex marriage, it certainly aided same-sex couples and was welcomed news for sexual minorities and their allies alike. It seems broader social and societal change will not happen overnight. However, the Supreme Court’s affirmation of statewide rulings on marriage bans is one more step in the right direction.