I do a lot of weddings.
My partner and I have many straight friends in their marrying years, and we love them. So we celebrate their legal unions, though we do it with silent sneers. We grumble about the particular injustice of legal marriage being a heteros-only institution, and we scoff at the broader absurdity of the law making a morality play out of a contracting issue.
Or, we do until the ceremony arrives at that moment - the one that turns even the most cynical stare into a teary embrace.
It comes during the toasts, when a sibling or a parent or a childhood friend stands up and talks about the stuff that matters. They talk about how the bride beams just at seeing her man’s number on the caller ID. Or how the new son-in-law lets the grandkids paint his toenails. They talk about the connective tissue of family, and we remember this doesn’t have a thing to do with law and politics. That it’s a collective, public endorsement of love. Federal Judge Vaughn Walker gave gay and lesbian couples such a toast yesterday.
Yes, California’s same-sex couples will travel a long and perilous legal path to reach the state’s alter. Certainly, Walker’s historic conclusions—that Prop 8 violates both the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment—will ultimately stand or fall based on whether Justice Anthony Kennedy agrees. Absolutely, that means Perry v. Schwarzenegger is a dangerous gamble for the LGBT community. For that matter, the entire marriage rights movement is arguably a massive squandering of resources that’s grounded in misplaced priorities; I’d far prefer those millions of dollars and countless hours of activism be funneled into creating safe, supportive schools for LGBT youth, for instance.
But none of these realities lesson the emotional impact of Walkers’ ruling. As many have noted, the real weight of Walker’s written opinion lies in its extensive findings of fact, to which future courts will likely defer. For more than 50 pages, he hammers away at the bigoted ideas that justify not only Prop 8, but anti-gay laws and mores of all sort. He knocks down one dubious, homophobic assertion after another, bowling them over with reasoned scholarship in science, sociology, psychology, history and even law.
Proposition 8 places the force of law behind stigmas against gays and lesbians, including: gays and lesbians do not have intimate relationships similar to heterosexual couples; gays and lesbians are not as good as heterosexuals; and gay and lesbian relationships do not deserve the full recognition of society.
Well-known stereotypes about gay men and lesbians include a belief that gays and lesbians are affluent, self-absorbed and incapable of forming long-term intimate relationships. Other stereotypes imagine gay men and lesbians as disease vectors or as child molesters who recruit young children into homosexuality. No evidence supports these stereotypes.
Proposition 8 perpetuates the stereotype that gays and lesbians are incapable of forming long-term loving relationships and that gays and lesbians are not good parents.
On and on it goes, culminating in a statement so simple and direct as to be radical: “The evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples.” They are not, and a federal court has said so in plain terms.
Walker’s ruling moves the debate away from deliberately distracting questions about how gay relationships impact everyone else and toward questions about how bigotry impacts gay relationships. Indeed, he seems to understand that the fight over gay marriage is no more about law and politics than are weddings. His ruling speaks to a far more fundamental query than whether Prop 8 is valid. Can America offer a collective, public endorsement of gay relationships? I don’t need that endorsement; my love stands on its own. But I nonetheless want it and deserve it. And however Perry v. Schwarzenegger’s certain rendezvous with the Supreme Court concludes, Walker has raised his glass and said, blessings.
Kai Wright is an editor for ColorLines.com and an Alfred Knobler Fellow of the Nation Institute.