Recent court decisions in Idaho, Oregon and Pennsylvania overturning bans on same-sex marriage illustrate how indefensible these bans are.
Roughly a dozen state and federal courts in every corner of the country have ruled in recent months that prohibiting same-sex couples from entering into legally recognized domestic unions is inherently unconstitutional.
That a judge reached the same conclusion in Idaho — one of the most conservative states in the nation — demonstrates that the rationalizations that have long allowed prejudice to infect our legal system won’t hold up any more.
“Idaho’s marriage laws deny its gay and lesbian citizens the fundamental right to marry and relegate their families to a stigmatized, second-class status without sufficient reason for doing so,” U.S. District Judge Candy Dale wrote in her eloquent 57-page opinion.
“Marriage is a fundamental right of all citizens, which neither tradition nor the majority can deny,” she added. Laws that forbid same-sex couples from marrying “do not withstand any applicable level of constitutional scrutiny.”
In recent days, judges elsewhere have framed their rulings in similarly definitive terms.
On May 19, U.S. District Judge Michael McShane, in overturning Oregon’s prohibition on same-sex matrimony, ruled: “No legitimate state purpose justifies the preclusion of gay and lesbian couples from civil marriage.”
And on May 20, in the Pennsylvania case, U.S. District Judge John Jones III wrote, “We are a better people than what these laws represent. It is time to discard them into the ash heap of history.”
But some people, like Idaho’s governor, Butch Otter, won’t let go. He suggested that allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, or to recognize such marriages legally joined in other states, would undermine “Idaho’s right to self-determination.”
In other words, the governor seemed to be saying, this fight isn’t about discrimination. It’s about states’ rights. But that argument is no less phony and specious today than it was during the civil rights era.
As Judge Dale notes in the final sentence of her ruling, “Slow as the march toward equality may seem, it is never in vain.”
And so the march proceeds, in states as politically diverse as Idaho, Oregon and Pennsylvania. There is no turning back.
Michael Rene Zuzel was for 10 years a policy and communications specialist for the mayor of Boise, Idaho. He is now a freelance writer and editor based in southern Oregon and can be reached at email@example.com.