Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Compelling Interest

For the second time in less than a month, a federal court has knocked down a state’s ban on same-sex marriage.  First it was Utah on December 20, and now it’s Oklahoma.

The state’s ban on marriage by gay and lesbian couples is “an arbitrary, irrational exclusion of just one class of Oklahoma citizens from a governmental benefit,” wrote Judge Terence C. Kern of United States District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma, in Tulsa, deciding a case that had languished for nine years. The amendment, he said, is based on “moral disapproval” and does not advance the state’s asserted interests in promoting heterosexual marriage or the welfare of children.

The state could not prove that there was a compelling interest in preventing same-sex couples from getting married.  No one could prove that, as in the case in Oklahoma, two women getting married to each other presented a threat to straight couples or that the opposition to marriage equality was based on anything more than prejudice and moral disapproval.  In other words, you can’t ban gay marriage because you think gays are icky.

That’s the same logic that was used in the Utah ruling, and it’s become a common thread throughout the rulings that have come down on the side of marriage equality.  It’s not that the judges are all in cahoots with the vast radical homosexual agenda to undermine straight people and make a mockery of heterosexual nuptials such as those of the Kardashians (although to hear the ignorant tightasses at the Family Research Council and the National Organization for Marriage, that’s exactly what’s going on).  It’s that the Constitution’s guarantee of equal justice under the law provides a rather high bar for depriving an entire community of government benefits.  There has to be a really good reason for denying equal protection and benefits, and so far, no one has been able to do that, at least at the federal circuit court level regarding state bans on marriage equality.

The courts, including the United States Supreme Court, have already spoken on cases similar to the ones in Utah and Oklahoma.  In Romer v. Evans, Colorado’s Amendment 2 that banned municipalities from implementing anti-gay discrimination laws was thrown out because, as Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, it was little more than gay-bashing written into state law:

Its sheer breadth is so discontinuous with the reasons offered for it that the amendment seems inexplicable by anything but animus toward the class that it affects; it lacks a rational relationship to legitimate state interests.[12]

[…]

[Amendment 2] is at once too narrow and too broad. It identifies persons by a single trait and then denies them protection across the board. The resulting disqualification of a class of persons from the right to seek specific protection from the law is unprecedented in our jurisprudence.

That is also the logic used to overturn Texas’s ban on sodomy in Lawrence v. Texas and, most recently, in United States v. Windsor, the ruling last June that effectively killed off the odious Defense of Marriage Act: the state could not prove that there was a compelling reason for discrimination.

Are you beginning to see a pattern here?  As more and more cases make their way to the courts and up the chain to the marbled halls of the Supreme Court, the simple task of proving that there is more to stopping gay marriage than moral outrage and threats of divine retribution from a supernatural being, and an obsessive interest in the consensual acts of two people in the privacy of their home.

The compelling interest that is at stake is that all citizens of this country are entitled to the same rights as everyone else.  So if marriage equality is, as the anti-gay groups are a little too passionate to complain about, something being “shoved down their throats,” then their complaint lies with the men who wrote the Constitution in the first place, not with the people who are trying to secure the rights they were promised and are entitled to as a matter of life, liberty, and the pursuit of whatever it is that makes life worth living.

One bark on “A Compelling Interest

  1. Of course, besides “gays are icky,” the objection to marriage equality also boils down to “the Bible says,” forgetting that OUR LEGAL SYSTEM ISN’T BASED ON THE BIBLE!

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