Same-sex marriage is now legal in a majority of states. After the Supreme Court’s decision to not hear the appeals of several judicial decisions, 32 states now allow same-sex couples to marry, representing over 60% of the country’s population.. Several more states merely require state-level cases to validate federal circuit-court rulings. The inevitability of this social shift seems confirmed, but resistance to same-sex marriage is especially strong in the Southern and Midwestern states. In fact, broad swaths of the Midwest and the South were affected by the Court’s decisions, with many more states still embroiled in legal disputes over the future of marriage rights within their borders. Despite its landmark (in) decision, the Supreme Court is still looked to by both sides to resolve the issue of constitutionality? Yet some advocates, in the wake of this most recent development, now fear that a Supreme Court ruling has the potential to do far more practical harm than good if the court rules against same-sex marriage or ambivalently. Likewise, the position of many opposing groups have flipped; those who have been decrying “judicial activism” and “overruling the people” now turn to the Court to undo what they see as damage done by lower courts. Either way, it is likely that this country will have a decisive ruling on the matter within a year. But until that moment, we are going to see conflict, particularly in those states where judicial decisions are being sought or appealed over the issue.
Much like past battles over discrimination policies, ethnic voting rights, and women’s suffrage, the current patchwork of states that allow, deny, or are sorting through their stance on same sex marriage almost demands resolution by the federal courts. Take Arkansas, for instance. The Natural State holds many of the same bogus interpretations of “natural law” as others in the Bible Belt. Arkansas proudly boasted 75% popular support for 2004 amendment to the state constitution limiting recognition of marriage to those between a male and a female. In arguments before Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza in 2014, the state argued that the amendment and an accompanying law were vital to protecting children, tradition, and procreation. Thinly veiled religious arguments were insufficient in the eyes of the court, and Piazza ruled against the ban and the amendment:
A marriage license is a civil document and is not, nor can it be, based upon any particular faith. Same-sex couples are a morally disliked minority and the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages is driven by animus rather than a rational basis. This violates the United States Constitution (Piazza, 2014).
The next few days were filled with stories of hundreds of same-sex couples receiving marriage license. The last few months have seen an eventual stay on the marriages until the Arkansas Supreme Court rules on the issue, their public endorsement/denial by elected officials and county clerks, and outpourings of support and vitriol from opposing sides. Piazza may have made himself the most hated person in the state for upholding constitutional law over the ever-so- scared “will of the people,” at least among those who can’t seem to quite grasp the notion of judicial review.
If I seem touchy on this subject, it’s because I am deeply ashamed of how many of my fellow Arkansans seem ignorant of or willing to ignore the provisions of the Constitution in order to preserve a system of discrimination. Like the cry of “States’ Rights!” heard in national debates, “The Will of the People” is little more than code for local majority tyranny, and has been the half-legitimate argument against every advancement in civil rights since the 1950s. But I digress.
Aside from its Supreme Court case, Arkansas also has a case set to go before a federal judge on this issue. Both cases, however, are overshadowed in most people’s mind by the inevitable decision form the US Supreme Court. It is tempting for advocates and opponents alike to let the state and federal cases rest until the constitutionality of the issue is decided. However, abandoning the fight for equality grants a de-facto victory to the proponents of discrimination. As we await a Supreme Court ruling, there are millions of citizens in this country whose rights are either protected or stripped away based on which side of state border they stand on. Every day this remains the case is day we the people shame the legacy of freedom and equality left to us by preceding generations.
A local conservative editorialist masquerading as a libertarian once penned a column on what comes after marriage equality. He seemed to be of the opinion that the evil homosexual agenda would never rest until honest, God-and-Gays-fearing ministers were arrested for preaching on the subject. I would like to note that the local fight over hiring/firing LGTBQ people based on their sexuality or gender identity is only just beginning, and it hardly seems the stuff of conservative nightmares. Well, unless those nightmares consist of a world in which businesses can’t hire, fire, or mistreat employees because of who they are. The recent ordinance in Fayetteville extends existing employment, housing, and accommodation protections to LGTBQ citizens. Churches are exempt from many of the provisions, so the dreaded “gaystapo” (not my word) will not be busting down church doors demanding to use opposite-sex restrooms.
We live in a deeply divided nations, and an even more deeply divided state. On the one hand we have a tiny minority and those who believe they are citizens with the rights of citizens. On the other hand we have those who have lived and worked beside this minority for the entire history of this country without suffering any harm at their hands whatsoever, and yet believe that acknowledging their rights would spell disaster for the family, children, and general morality. While we await what I sincerely hope will be a Supreme Court ruling in favor of those rights, we must not forget that this is not over. We should fight beside our fellow citizens for their rights the day before the Supreme Court rules and the day after. We must carry this fight on until everyone enjoys equal liberty under the law.