Last Saturday I attended the wedding of two friends, Andrea and Warren. They were married in a Quaker meeting — what is called “a meeting for worship with a concern for marriage.” There was no intermediary — no pastor, no priest — and no one gave the bride away. Andrea and Warren stood up in front of the meeting of over 100 friends and family, repeated their vows to each other, and then signed the marriage certificate. They then sat down, and as the meeting progressed, friends and family stood up and delivered short messages of support and reminisces, as is the fashion in most Quaker meetings. At the end of the hour, we all shook hands, then everyone there also signed the certificate as witnesses. We then moved on to a reception which, in the Quaker tradition, was a potluck meal. We also had a band.
In my life I’ve been to some pretty elaborate weddings: in churches and synagogues with all the trimmings, and to some simple weddings, like the one in the desert outside of Santa Fe or in front of a hotel in the middle of a state park in Indiana. Weddings can be as varied as the people who are in them. And so can marriages. But they are all the same in one respect: the people in them are entitled to the rights and responsibilities that come with making a commitment to themselves and each other as authorized by the state’s granting of a marriage license.
Of all of the weddings I’ve been to in my life, I’ve never been to one between two people who happen to be of the same gender or who did not fit into the state’s definition of who can be married and who cannot. Today the Supreme Court begins two days of hearings that address the rights of American citizens to have access and equality to marriage and whether or not those people in such a bond are entitled to all the rights and responsibilities that are granted to a couple who do.
There have been a lot of pixels and ink generated over the last few years leading up to these hearings. There’s been a lot of betting and speculation on how the court will rule or whether they will narrowly or broadly rule in favor — or against — Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). No one really knows the answer to that question yet; there will be a lot of tea-leaf reading when the arguments are heard and the audio tapes are released.
I have no particular insight to the law or the minds of the justices of the Court. All I have is the understanding that the law we all accept as the foundation of our country states that no person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws of the federal or state governments without due process, and that equality is not based on innate qualities such as race, color, or gender, or on incidental factors such as social status or faith.
I’ve heard and read a lot about marriage equality, and I’ve yet to hear a simple, logical argument against it that was based on a legal foundation. I have certainly heard a lot of impassioned arguments based on the traditions or religious teachings of certain faiths. But this country is not yet a theocracy, and therefore those arguments don’t have standing in the law. Indeed, many of those arguments would, if enacted and enforced, run counter to the constitutional protections that are the foundation of this country. We as individuals or as members of a faith may observe and honor those beliefs. But writing them into the laws of the land imposes on all of us a burden that this nation and this idea of equality did not choose to undertake at its founding and has worked to avoid ever since. Prop 8 and DOMA violate the simple principle that all of us are entitled to equality.