Tide favoring same-sex marriage

Jun. 27, 2013 @ 06:43 PM

Wednesday was a day of celebration for gay couples and those who support them around the country.

The celebrations, though, were tinged with regret in North Carolina, as in many other states.

The Supreme Court crossed a vital benchmark when it declared unconstitutional the Defense of Marriage Act, a law whose name, which we’re sure was meant sincerely by many of its supporters if not necessarily all of its authors, was nonetheless grossly unfair. To many Americans, it was anything but a defense of marriage – it was more like an assault.

The law kept legally married same-sex couples from receiving tax, health and pension benefits otherwise available to other married couples.  The impact of that court decision will be almost immediately felt, and welcomed, by same-sex couples in the 13 states were their marriages are legal.

But in North Carolina, the impact will be muted because we are among the 37 states that explicitly ban same-sex marriage.  That’s a position the voters of this state affirmed overwhelmingly last year.

But the rulings this week by a court known for conservative majorities reflect a growing shift in public attitudes shown in poll after poll and in anecdotal evidence of acceptance of gay relationships and same-sex marriage that would have been startling only a generation ago.

Not only did the court reject DOMA, it upheld the right of same-sex couples in California to wed. That decision rested on fairly technical grounds as the court concluded it was not a proper case for the court to decide. That in effect upheld a lower court ruling rejecting a public referendum – much like North Carolina’s – banning same-sex marriage.

In the court’s DOMA opinion lay signs the court may be inclined to reject state bans eventually, and more litigation is sure to follow.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, in crafting the majority opinion, wrote of DOMA:

“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and injure those whom the state, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.”

Despite the strong vote against same-sex marriage here last year, the tide of history appears to be moving inexorably in the other direction.  Indeed, it has moved in that direction overwhelmingly in Durham and Chapel Hill, where the vote was as overwhelming against Amendment One as it was in favor statewide.

Wednesday’s decisions, and rapidly shifting public opinion, suggest the day may not be long in coming when North Carolina and the entire nation accept, even if all do not embrace, the idea of same-sex unions.

The court majority, in characterizing the impact of the Defense of Marriage Act, wrote:

“DOMA instructs all federal officals, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriage of others.”

The message is welcome and clear: It is and should be equally worthy.