Widening the Circle
As we celebrate today, I am feeling indebted to the couples I know and the couples I don't know, who in the past were brave enough to claim their desire for love and for lifetime commitment. This was daring and an enduring example of how individual fulfillment ripples out, widening the circle of what is possible for others.
I am also feeling grateful to Tom Lyons, my American History teacher who taught a Constitutional Law class my Senior year of high school. We studied Brown v. Board of Education, Bakke v. University of California, Bowers v. Hardwick and others. In each case, Mr. Lyons presented us photocopies of the original US Supreme Court Decisions. Reading the original texts, absorbing fundamental concepts in that classic seraph font, learning to recognize the italicized case names, and coming to know the legal voices of the various justices (Thurgood Marshall and Earl Warren became personal favorites), these learning moments characterize the pinnacle of my life as a student. I cannot recall a class I loved better than that one.
When I graduated and spent a year at Georgetown University, I learned how our class came to have the opportunity to study those briefs. In the years when history existed on paper, Tom Lyons always had an alum at Georgetown that he called upon to make the trip to the Supreme Court and photocopy briefs for him. For a short year, I was that young student. I can remember walking the rising white marble steps, filling out the order form for the briefs and standing at the Supreme Court copy machine. Never has photocopying been so empowering.
My teacher planted in me a great love for these Supreme Court opinions, for their project and their beautiful language that is always aimed so precisely toward creating history.
So with my dear friends and my beloved history teacher in mind, I took great pleasure reading today's decision (and dissent too). Rather than write one more word, I invite you to savor Justice Kennedy's legal voice. Here are some of my favorite excerpts from his opinion.
"From their beginning to their most recent page, the annals of human history reveal the transcendent importance of marriage. The lifelong union of a man and a woman always has promised nobility and dignity to all persons, without regard to their station in life. Marriage is sacred to those who live by their religions and offers unique fulfillment to those who find meaning in the secular realm. Its dynamic allows two people to find a life that could not be found alone, for a marriage becomes greater than just the two persons. Rising from the most basic human needs, marriage is essential to our most profound hopes and aspirations."
"To the contrary, it is the enduring importance of marriage that underlies the petitioners’ contentions. This, they say, is their whole point. Far from seeking to devalue marriage, the petitioners seek it for themselves because of their respect—and need—for its privileges and responsibilities. And their immutable nature dictates that same-sex marriage is their only real path to this profound commitment."
"The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times. The generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a charter protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning."
"These new insights have strengthened, not weakened, the institution of marriage. Indeed, changed understandings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations, often through perspectives that begin in pleas or protests and then are considered in the political sphere and the judicial process."
"The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality. This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation."
"Same-sex couples, too, may aspire to the transcendent purposes of marriage and seek fulfillment in its highest meaning."
"The right to marry is fundamental as a matter of history and tradition, but rights come not from ancient sources alone. They rise, too, from a better informed understanding of how constitutional imperatives define a liberty that remains urgent in our own era."
"No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law.
The Constitution grants them that right.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.
It is so ordered."