Gay Marriage: Cultural Conversion

This is the outcome of decades of fighting for gay civil rights. This is certainly a major ruling made by the U.S. Supreme Court, which concluded that same-sex marriage is included among the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. This decision is all the more significant as it is in line with the development of American society.

Two rulings, two advances in a row: Last Thursday, in a highly-anticipated ruling, the Supreme Court validated the key provisions of Obamacare, the most ambitious healthcare system reform undertaken in the United States since the 1960s. In doing so, millions of Americans whose health insurance was threatened by Republican judicial obstruction, let out a sigh of relief. The next day, another truly historic and crucial decision took place when the highest court in the country recognized the constitutional right of gay marriage. Two decisions that have just highlighted once again the noticeable trend of minimizing the noisy conservative voices that pollute the American airwaves.

The ruling on gay marriage is incidentally given forty-six years after the Stonewall riots in New York, when a police raid conducted in Greenwich Village on June 28th 1969 triggered the wrath of the gay community. These violent and spontaneous protests are considered to be the inception of the gay movement and the LGBT movement in the U.S. later on. We have nonetheless come a long way.

It is true that not too long ago—less than ten years ago in fact—a majority of Americans began to no longer consider homosexuality as a disease or a social deviance. However, mentalities started to change with increasing speed in recent years. According to a recent Gallup poll, 60 percent of Americans today accept the idea of gay marriage, whereas 68 percent were opposed to it twenty years ago.

This is in fact a cultural conversion in which courts have played a vital and leading role. Among the thirty-seven American States that now recognize same-sex marriage, twenty-three took the plunge under pressure from courts of different jurisdictions, showing the extent to which politicians, including Democrats, had been reluctant to take the initiative and duly note the social transformations that are unfolding before their eyes. This subsequently highlights the importance of an independent justice system. A constitutional democracy such as the United States precisely calls for equality among citizens to not be solely dependent on political or electoral choices.

In any case, it should be pointed out that upholders of the right to gay marriage based their argument before the Supreme Court on the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1868 immediately after the American Civil War. The amendment had been adopted to protect the freed slaves’ rights to “life, liberty and property” against State discriminatory laws. And this still holds true, in spite of everything. It is significant that, 150 years later, the Supreme Court, on the basis of this amendment, agreed that the right to gay marriage applied to the entire country, beyond individual State decisions.

This does not exclude the fact that the nine Supreme Court justices are clearly divided by a close 5-to-4 vote. The cause would have been lost if Justice Anthony Kennedy, “a moderate-conservative,” did not add his voice to those of the four more progressive justices. This is a ruling with a result that is in tune with the American society, but it does not mean that it has finished tearing itself apart.

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