Opinion: blinded by the times on marriage

Jim Obergefell; Mary BonautoAmerica’s culture is not an artifact preserved in a museum; it is very much alive.

As members of the Millennial generation, we have been catalysts for a seismic cultural shift that has taken hold across America.

For 54 percent of Americans, no longer is it accepted that Americans can be discriminated against because the person they love happens to be a member of the same sex.

According to the Pew Research Center, Millennials are by far the most receptive to allowing gays to marry, with an overwhelming 68 percent expressing support for same-sex marriage.

All signs point to gay marriage disappearing as a cultural issue in the near future.

With Americans in agreement on the issue, surely our political institutions now reflect the new cultural consensus.

Unfortunately, however, some of the more insidious and unfalsifiable arguments against gay marriage still have life in America’s institution that is often the slowest to change: the Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, April 28, the Supreme Court considered oral arguments for Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that will either represent a breakthrough for gays across America or a return to the status quo that has oppressed them for centuries.

For some conservative justices on the Supreme Court, a refusal to “redefine” marriage prevents them from considering allowing marriage between two men or two women.

Chief Justice John Roberts chastised gay rights advocate, Mary Bonauto, at the Court, saying, “You’re seeking to change what the institution is. The fundamental core of the institution is the opposite-sex relationship, and you want to introduce into it a same-sex relationship.”

Justice Anthony Kennedy stressed the length of time that our definition of marriage has remained stagnant.

“This definition has been with us for millennia,” Kennedy said. “And it it’s very difficult for the Court to say, oh, well, we know better.”

In a sense, these Justices’ arguments all boil down to stressing how it has always been the same way with the “institution” of marriage. However, I would propose that marriage has not remained as stagnant as they would like to think.

In fact, the definition of marriage has changed many times already. The conception of marriage in the past has not only centered on individuals of the opposite sex.

Previously, individuals of two different faiths might not have been allowed to get married, or individuals of different races would have been prohibited by law from getting married.

To take a broad historical perspective, until the eighteenth century, the most common marriages were arranged marriages.

These marriages took a very different perspective on the institution than what we have today.

They could have been arranged based on family clout, financial reasons, or to represent favors between family patriarchs.

These marriages may or may not have been carried out with the full endorsement and consent of both parties getting married.

The case of arranged marriages brings up another argument I would present to counter conservatives like Roberts: isn’t love the fundamental element of a modern marriage, rather than selecting an individual of the opposite sex?

By desperately clinging to this element of marriage, Roberts’ argument becomes absurd when it is taken to its logical conclusion. Indeed, if all it took was finding a member of the opposite sex, we would have never moved away from the eighteenth century’s system of arranged marriages.

No, love is fundamental to America’s conception of marriage, and the consideration of love wipes out traditionalist arguments.

We should not discriminate against individuals by prohibiting them from marrying who they love just because, in the words of Ms. Bonauto, the “times can blind.”

As unfair as it is to rely on these nonsensical historical arguments, it is equally as unfair to try and punt the question of marriage to the states by ignoring the obvious protections for gay Americans present in the fourteenth amendment of the Constitution.

“Waiting is not neutral,” Bonauto told the Court, and I wholeheartedly agree. Harming individuals who seek to get married by subjecting them to unconstitutional laws that are products of the tyranny of the majority is not how America should operate.

As Justice Stephen Breyer argued, “Marriage is fundamental… But there is one group of people whom they won’t open marriage to. So they have no possibility to participate in that fundamental liberty. That is people of the same sex who wish to marry.

And so we ask, why? And the answer we get is, well, people have always done it.”

“We’ve always done it that way” is a fundamentally unsatisfying non-argument, and it reveals how little ground opponents of gay marriage have to convincingly stand on.

America needs to change, and hopefully the Supreme Court will take a principled stand for this defining cultural issue of our times.

-Henry Ashton ’15, Senior Politics/Opinions Editor (Outgoing)

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