Supreme Court justices must not fear ending debate and closing minds

…to prejudice, misunderstanding and fear.

Tuesday, April 26, 2015

By BRENT CHILDERS

Faith In America executive director

Listening to the U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments today for marriage equality, it is worth noting that attorney Mary Bonauto began her comments by talking about a stain of unworthiness that is placed on gay people by state constitutions that ban their marriages. 

"The intimate and committed relationships of same-sex couples, just like those of heterosexual couples, provide mutual support and are the foundation of life in our society," Bonauto stated.

Marriage is not a term to be defined or redefined. It is not some state-controlled contract that can be summarily dismissed by some states as not following that particular state's traditional definition of marriage, as the attorney presenting the opposing argument implied on several occasions.

Marriage is about life. It possesses life – and the lives of two individuals who seek to journey together as one. Just as heterosexual people, gay people join in marriage as a commitment to make life's journey together – from the beginning of that covenant until the death of one or the other spouse.

There is dignity bestowed to such unions and the marriage between two gay individuals is utterly deserving of such dignity. And again, it is not as much about the dignity of the union itself but the dignity of the life that two people choose – a life together.

While there was no outright mention of religion-derived derogation as the basis of denying gay individuals that dignity, it was clear from  the comments of conservative-leaning justices that they had read the amicus briefs from the anti-gay religious industry: Will it lead to states endorsing polygamy or incestuous marriages; and is the court being asked to decide something that social science for which social science hasn't yet cleared the way? No, no and no, argued Bonauto and fellow attorneys Donald Verrilli and Douglas Hallward-Driemeier.

Chief Justice Roberts in the first half of the arguments today made a comment that was most intriguing as it relates to religion-based bigotry as the foundation of animus toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Roberts stated "I mean, closing of debate can close minds, and it will have a consequence on how this new institution is accepted."

An humble correction is in order for the Chief Justice: Gay marriage is not a new institution  – marriage is a covenant between two people. Whether the covenant is between two gay people or two heterosexual people – the covenant is unchanged.

That is unless of course you hold the traditional religious persecutive that the marriage covenant was ordained by God as only a covenant between two heterosexual people.

Is that the debate that Chief Justice Roberts, a person of Catholic faith, perhaps was alluding with his comment on ending debate and closing minds?

There really isn't that much debate these days about gay marriage other than within faith communities – Catholic and evangelical churches being two places in society where anti-gay bias is still very much promoted and justified by traditional church teaching.

Traditional marriage is defined as one man uniting with one woman – which happens to be the religious definition of marriage held by a significant but ever-retreating number of Catholics and evangelicals.

We hope Chief Justice Roberts doesn't want to continue that debate – where anti-gay attitudes are placed in peoples' minds by one particular and specific outdated, ill-informed and misapplied church teaching.

But knowing Roberts' conservative leanings and his faith tradition, he very well may conclude that we should allow religion-derived derogation to wreak just a little more havoc on the lives of gay youth and families – in the name of traditional marriage as defined by some in his faith tradition.

More than 40 young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals have taken their own lives since 2007 and those are only the ones reported. Surely it is time we end this debate and close our minds to the religion-derived derogation that brings such horrific consequence upon the lives of LGBT youth and families.

We are confident and hopeful that a majority of U.S. Supreme justices will conclude it is time we close our minds to the prejudice, misunderstanding and fear that has held anti-gay attitudes in place for such very long time. 

Nothing could affect acceptance of marriage equality in America more profoundly. The consequence for countless individuals and society as a whole will be an uplifting through unification – like marriage indeed has the capacity to do.