For too long, the rights of same-sex couples have remained suspended in California, inexplicably restricted by a law that is both rationally and morally reprehensible. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ Tuesday ruling that struck down the state’s same-sex marriage ban — passed by ballot initiative Proposition 8 in 2008 — marks an overwhelmingly positive step toward correcting what amounts to nothing more than an embarrassing denial of civil rights.
Further litigation and appeals will surely occur. Nevertheless, this court’s decision — that “Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California” — must stand. Sealing away rights from some at the whim of others is unabashedly wrong.
Although it has already been four years since the ban was passed, the battle for gay rights in California and across the nation is far from over. Yes, Tuesday’s opinion is an unmistakable victory, but with further appeals pending — to a wider panel of 9th Circuit judges or perhaps the Supreme Court of the United States — civil rights champions should make the most of this time to prepare for the legal and cultural challenges that lie ahead.
The courts can strike down or uphold laws created by the people, they can protect the discriminated few or stand for the ideals of the many, but they cannot eliminate the deep-seated beliefs of any individual. Today’s world may be more open and receptive to differences than it ever was but — without diminishing the important dialogue surrounding same-sex rights — further progress will be slow in the absence of an educated populace. Thus it falls upon the opponents of Prop. 8 to continue their fight at full force, not only in the courts but also in the communities where they live.
Our nation was founded upon ensuring liberty and equality to every person. By no means should those strongly committed to Prop. 8’s ban on same-sex marriage be blindly condemned for their beliefs. But neither should any Californian accept closed-minded, backwards explanations for the continued deprivation of their fellow citizens’ rights. Only after the same liberties are guaranteed to all can the United States stand as the torchbearer of freedom and justice. We have the luxury of choosing who we legitimize — the law does not.
The same understanding with which so many young people today are engendered — the kind that goes beyond tolerance and acceptance, culminating in a normalization of each individual’s identity — must be shared with all. Indeed, protecting the right of any two adults to get married is the same as protecting the family values and good morals we all hold dear. Americans must together recognize this truth, regardless of court decisions, ballot initiatives or political tribulations.
Because justice delayed is democracy denied. We’ve already waited long enough.