The single most important issue the Supreme Court will face in the next five years is the issue of the definition of marriage. For millennia defined as the religious and legal union between one man and one woman, changing times demand either a redefinition or a strong statement in upholding traditional viewpoints. Surely a Fourteenth Amendment issue, the issue of the availability of marriage to both different sex and same sex couples will continue to heat up in the public arena until a suitable case comes to the attention of the Court.
In several states, legislatures have passed regulations in the past several years to recognize civil unions, thought to be a viable alternative for same sex couples as marriage is for different sex couples. In other states, ministers and public officials blatantly perform marriage rights for same sex couples, in disregard for local prohibitions against such a union. While many may think this issue can be contained and only affects same sex couples, it indeed affects the entire population.
In a society where marriage rates are slowing while divorce rates are climbing, any potential change in policy or public perception can have an enormous affect. In the late nineteenth century, the case of Plessy v. Ferguson upheld the practice of separate but equal facilities for differing races. This public policy was overturned by Brown v. Board of Education in the mid-twentieth century, after a finding that separate but equal directly violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The timeline of the evolution of marriage is following a similar course.
While several states and many corporations recognize same sex unions and grant rights and privileges to same sex partners, this is clearly a policy of separate but equal. If civil unions are to be recognized as an equivalent to marriage, and if same sex partners are to be afforded the same or similar privileges as different sex partners, why are they legislated in separate manners? It is likely that within the next five years the Supreme Court will issue its opinion that the separate but equal rights afforded to same sex couples are in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The affect such a ruling will have on myself, personally, as well as society as a whole will be interesting. The acceptance of such a change in how marriage is defined will not occur instantaneously. Instead, similar to the length of time full school desegregation needed to occur, the shifting of public opinion will be a slow and tedious task. Even among those fervently lobbying for change, the realization that change has occurred will dawn slowly. And like school desegregation, the legalization of same sex marriage will not be without stumbling blocks and issues.
The overriding legacy left by our generation, however, will be profound. Again, the similarity to the ending of school segregation is applicable. When we look back on Brown v. Board of Education, the decision seems momentous and courageous and having occurred at exactly the appropriate time. Perhaps sixty years in the future, a new generation will look back upon the Supreme Court of the early twenty-first century and come to the same realization and understanding of the legalization of same sex marriage.
- Background Summary & Questions (2002). The Supreme Court Historical Society. Retrieved March 30, 2007 from http://www. landmarkcases. org/gibbons/home. html.
- Barron v. Baltimore. (2007). Wikipedia. Retrieved March 30, 2007, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barron_v._Baltimore