Thursday, April 9, 2009

Same-Sex Marriage Gains - Iowa, DC and Vermont

Within the last week we've seen three more important steps toward the inevitable: national recognition that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right (or, more specifically, that any statutory differentiations based on sexual orientation for allowing people to enjoy the state-sanctioned benefits of marriage violate the fourteenth-amendment equal protection clause).

Last Friday, April 3, the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously held that the state's statutory ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional; then day before yesterday, Tuesday, April 7, the DC Council decided to recognize gay marriage performed elsewhere, and the Vermont legislature voted (over the governor's veto) to legalize gay marriage. (That Vermont thus becomes the first elected state legislature - as opposed to state Supreme Courts, in Massachusetts, Connecticut and now Iowa -to legalize same-sex marriage is not surprising; nine years ago, Vermont was the first state to legalize civil unions between same-sex couples.)

With these actions, we're seeing a work-in-progress of how basic rights and equal justice often become constitutionally recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court - momentum first builds in the states, then the Court settles the question in an appropriate case. The most apt analogy to what is happening now is what happened nearly 40 years ago on the issue of interracial marriage, when in the 1967 case of Loving v. Virginia the Court struck down state laws prohibiting interracial marriage. Today we view state laws banning interracial marriage as unbelievably unjust; as I suggest to my Constitutional Law students every year, in another forty years we'll view these state laws banning same-sex marriage with similar disbelief.

It's only a matter of time before the U.S. Supreme Court settles the question in favor of same-sex marriage as well - thus honoring the spirit of equal justice set forth in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.