Street Corner Soapbox: Same-sex marriage now legal in Pa.

Categories:      News & Politics    Opinion
Wednesday, May 28th, 2014 at 6:17 AM

“By virtue of this ruling,” wrote Federal Judge John E. Jones III in his conclusion on Whitewood v Wolf, “same-sex couples who seek to marry in Pennsylvania may do so, and already married same-sex couples will be recognized as such in the Commonwealth.”

And so, Jones struck down Pennsylvania's same-sex marriage ban.

Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who had hired private lawyers to defend the state's ban because the state attorney general, Kathleen Kane, had no interest in doing so, and who had equated gay sex with incest during an October television interview, declined to appeal the ruling.

With that, Pennsylvania became the 19th state to permit same-sex marriage.

This is not a victory for gays and lesbians. It's a victory for all of us, even those that support the ban. It's a victory for marriage, for individuals having the power to make their own life's decisions, for the freedom of expression.

This is a victory for love.

“Marriage...bestows enormous private and social advantages on those who choose to marry,” wrote Massachusetts Chief Justice Margaret Marshall in the landmark 2003 case that legalized same-sex marriage in that state – the first to do so. “Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideas of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family...

“Because it fulfills yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.”

That decision followed on other, equally famous court rulings that define marriage as primarily an individual’s choice. The Supreme Court's decision in Griswold v Connecticut legalized birth control in 1965, ostensibly for married couples, calling marriage “an association that promotes a way of life, not causes; a harmony in living, not political faiths; a bilateral loyalty, not commercial or social projects.” In 1967, in Loving v Virginia, the Supreme Court ruled states can't prevent people of different races from marrying because marriage “resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the state.”

Marriage defined as such – a “momentous act of self-definition” – is a highly personal relationship between individuals, and a place that the state has little right to go. It follows, then, that the state can't outlaw marriage between two people of the same sex – especially after the Supreme Court in its 2003 Lawrence v Texas decision ruled that Americans' consensual sexual conduct was protected by the Constitution.

(“The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy in that decision. “The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime.”)

To oppose same-sex marriage, then, requires logic that refutes those ideas, that demonstrates the state does have a right to “guard” marriage and determine whom we can and cannot marry.

Take a 2006 decision by the Washington Supreme Court, which upheld its ban (later overturned by the state legislature) over the argument that limited marriage to opposite-sex partners “furthers procreation, essential to the survival of the human race.”

Forget for a moment the absurdity of the logic that straight couples would stop having sex if gay marriage were allowed. The ruling argued that marriage is primarily a biological function to produce children. States have an interest in continuing the species; therefore, they have a right to regulate marriage to ensure the institution is properly producing children.

A similar decision by New York's highest court at the same time upholding its own ban, went further, admitting the only reason childless opposite-sex couples were allowed to marry were the administrative difficulties that would follow were they not. “While same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples are easily distinguished,” went the majority decision, “limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples likely to have children would require grossly intrusive inquiries, and arbitrary and unreliable line-drawing.”

Marriage is primarily a mechanism for producing babies, goes the argument.

Worse still are the arguments that tradition and history should have say over who gets married. That's the argument Corbett's lawyers made in the recent Pennsylvania case. Pennsylvanians have traditionally discriminated against gays. Therefore, the tradition should continue. Or, as Supreme Court Justice Anton Scalia argued in his dissent in Lawrence v Texas, “[s]tate laws against...same-sex marriage...are likewise sustainable only in light...of laws based on moral choices,” which are supported by “majoritarian sexual morality.” That is, the state has the right to discriminate against unions between two individuals if a majority finds it distasteful, even if there is no legitimate reason for preventing the union.

Or, whom we marry should be subject to the whims of our neighbors and our government.

These ideas, of course, are absurd. “Some of our citizens are made deeply uncomfortable by the notion of same-sex marriage,” wrote Justice Jones in the Pennsylvania decision. “However, that same-sex marriage causes discomfort in some does not make its prohibition constitutional.”

The definition of marriage instead offered by Massachusetts Judge Marshall clearly benefits from the weight of truth. Marriage is a “personal commitment to another human being” and a “celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family.” Marriage does “fulfill yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity” and this is why it’s an “esteemed institution.” You know it's true when you read it.

And these are the reasons I am married.

“In future generations the label same-sex marriages will be abandoned, to be replaced simply by marriage,” wrote justice Jones. “We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history.”

Jay Stevens can be contacted at, and you can follow him on Twitter @Snevets_Yaj. 

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