Understanding the ‘gay marriage’ rulings

Golden wedding rings. Credit: Vladimir Yaitskiy via Flickr.com CC BY SA 2.0

Golden wedding rings. Credit: Vladimir Yaitskiy via Flickr.com CC BY SA 2.0

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and dismissed an appeal of California’s Proposition 8 on grounds of standing. But what does this mean? What are the implications of the court decisions? Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly from today’s rulings:

The Good:
The court did not claim to have discovered a fundamental “right” to marry. If it had done so, it could have imposed a redefinition of marriage on the entire country, forcing widespread recognition of “gay marriage.” Instead, the court chose to issue a more limited ruling, saying in its DOMA decision that the states are free to define marriage as they see fit, but if they choose to recognize same-sex “marriage,” the federal government must acknowledge these “marriages” alongside the marriages of one man and one woman. States are still free to hold a view of marriage as one man, one woman if they choose to do so. This is a silver lining on a court decision that could have been absolutely devastating.

The Bad:
Overturning DOMA means that the federal government will recognize “gay marriage” in the states that allow it. This will affect more than 1,000 regulations and legal provisions, and could have a sweeping impact on both the legal and cultural understanding of what marriage is. And by dismissing Prop 8, the court is allowing a lower ruling to stand, paving the way for “gay marriage” in California. In addition, since the federal government must acknowledge all state-recognized marriages, there will be increased pressure on the states to redefine marriage.

The Ugly:
The majority opinion in DOMA makes the claim that those who support the law do so in order to “disparage,” “injure,” “degrade,” “demean” and “humiliate” gay individuals. This is very bad news for those who defend marriage not out of animus or hatred but because they believe that marriage is rooted in divine and natural law and is not ours to redefine. As Justice Scalia explained in a scathing dissent, the court today has declared those who oppose a redefinition of marriage to be “enemies of the human race.” Supporters of marriage as it has been understood by virtually every society throughout human history need to be prepared for social persecution, since even the nation’s high court now assumes that defending marriage is based on hatred and bigotry rather than a natural understanding of the sacred purpose of human sexuality. Defenders of marriage may find that their rights to voice their beliefs and live according to them are quickly eroding after this court decision.