Where Does Freedom Come From?

It was not the Supreme Court or Obama that changed the fate of the LGBT community in the USA; it was tens of thousands of people and years of struggle.

On Friday, June 26, the Supreme Court came up with a ruling that would change the lives of millions of people for the better. Now, the states can no longer refuse to register the marriages of same-sex couples and must recognize already issued marriage certificates. In Russia, where a similar court decision is still many years away, the supporters of the decision added rainbow colors, the symbol of the LGBT rights movement, to their social media profiles. While sharing the joy of this victory, I must point out that its historic meaning is overestimated. History was not written by the nine people in the Supreme Court, but by hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens; only one out of all of them was mentioned in the Supreme Court ruling: the plaintiff James Obergefell.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly extended civil rights in the USA, but each time it happened after the supporters of the changes had gained momentum. In 1967, the ruling in the Loving vs. Virginia case invalidated laws of the states prohibiting inter-racial marriage. It was a landmark decision, but it didn’t happen in a vacuum. By that time, more than 30 states had banned the shameful law. When the U.S. Supreme Court started reviewing the case Roe vs. Wade (the ruling that legalized abortion), 17 states had already ratified the right to an abortion. It was a minority, but a rapidly growing one: All laws were issued on a state level in the course of six years.

Countless volumes have been written about America gaining freedom of speech. Although the infamous 1st Amendment (which guarantees freedom of expression) is over 200 years old, its currently unparalleled anywhere else in the world scope has been achieved only very recently. It took countless hearings, protests and prison terms, which were served by the people charged under absurd articles like sedition (similar to Article 282 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation).

In a situation where the protection (or tightening) of civil rights requires an amendment of the U.S. Constitution, already Congress, not the court, must follow in the steps of the voters. The liberal amendment giving women the right to vote and the conservative 18th Amendment, which constitutionalized prohibition, were both adopted after the majority of the states had already adopted similar legislation.

The legal consequences of such rulings are not appealing to everyone. Four justices in the current composition of the Supreme Court published four dissenting opinions, which disagreed with the opinion of the majority. In their opinion, the court had exceeded its authority. But the political lesson of the landmark ruling is obvious: Civil freedoms are fought for not in Washington, but in thousands cities across the nation. Congress, the White House and Supreme Court are not the only institutions capable of advocating for change.

It is the same in Russia. Freedom is not granted by parliaments or courts; it is fought for in the streets, in the newspapers, everywhere in the country. It will take many thousands of people adding rainbows to their social media profile pictures, marching in the streets with the rainbow flags, protesting to change the situation in our country as well. The political regime has nothing to do with this: While Americans were fighting for the rights of their fellow citizens and their own rights, several presidents had changed, several wars had passed, and a whole generation came of age.

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