Sometimes I read stories that make me seriously ponder what it would be like to ex-patriate and move to another country that isn’t so full of fundamentalists hell-bent on dragging our country backward. It’s not hard to see why I get so depressed about our country’s seemingly incessant trek through history as a country supposedly built on freedom and equality for all but sorely lacking in the “follow-through” arena.
Over the weekend a man who sits on our highest court had the gall to imply that when judges strike down laws that allow for legal discrimination against minorities and members of the LGBT community that they are behaving like judges in Nazi Germany did when they cleared the way for Hitler’s Holocaust. It seems like we’re just doomed to be stuck in a cycle of taking two steps forward and one step back, and that’s just not conducive to real progress.
…or at least that’s how it can seem.
Luckily, even in a country with people like Justice Scalia in it, progress is inevitable, and the evidence is right there in front of us. When the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to overturn both the Defense of Marriage Act on the Federal level and California’s Prop 8 — both measures that banned same-sex marriages for no good reason — there was a massive outcry from the religious right. Why? Because they knew that the snowball had just been pushed over the mountain’s peak and social progress has a tendency to gain momentum and size very quickly once the antiquated relics and their legislative and judicial allies have been swept out of the way. This summer’s two gay marriage decisions were like two massive boulders being heaved into a small lake, and the ripples are already being felt in Ohio.
The Buckeye state is the center of a story involving a same-sex couple, James Obergefell and John Arthur, who have been fighting desperately to have their union recognized. You see, Arthur has ALS and it’s in the final stages. The two have been together for 20 years and as John enters the twilight of his time here on Earth, they wanted to go into that most trying of times knowing that, no matter what, they’d spend their time in The Great Beyond buried side by side. The problem is that the cemetery that will be keeping their mortal remains was instructed Arthur’s great-grandfather when the family plots were established that only his direct descendants and their spouses could be buried there.
In Ohio, James and John’s commitment to each other goes against the 2004 law passed there that bans gay marriage. The two filed suit in Federal court to get Ohio to recognize their marriage, which was performed on a plane at Thurgood Marshall Airport in Baltimore. The hope was that if the Federal courts could intercede on Constitutional grounds — bolstered by the recent SCOTUS decisions — that James and John would have a shot at getting John’s last wishes fulfilled.
Good news came for Obergefell and Arthur yesterday when the Federal judge presiding in their case ruled that Ohio’s same-sex marriage ban “violates rights secured by the … United States Constitution in that same-sex couples married in jurisdictions where same-sex marriages are valid, who seek to have their out-of-state marriage accepted as legal in Ohio, are treated differently than opposite-sex couples who have been married in states where their circumstances allow marriage in that state but not in Ohio.”
It’s now very clear why it was so important to get the decisions on DOMA and Prop 8 that ended codified bigotry. It seemed at first that SCOTUS may have punted, at least on the states’ rights component of this issue, but clearly what’s happened is that a pathway has been opened up for legal challenges to the discriminatory laws. What we’re watching in Ohio in John and James’ case is the template for real change in America. It starts by setting a legal precedent at the highest level and it just slowly trickles down (to borrow a phrase) to the lower courts on a case by case basis, ultimately rendering these antiquated and nonsensical laws moot.
We’re still an incredibly long way off from the finish line. Well over half the states in the union have some kind of law on the books that discriminates against the LGBT community, whether its marriage laws or employment laws that allow for firing gay people on religious grounds. But the pendulum is undeniably moving, and just that tiny first tick of movement to the left is enough to bolster the spirits of everyone who has fought hard for the equality that everyone regardless of their color, creed or orientation are entitled to. It’s amazing what a little bit of progress can do to the morale of a movement.
Watch a video about the couple here: