Civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was fond of saying, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” It’s not clear what side of the marriage equality debates King would be on today. However, when King articulated his thoughts on the moral universe, his own position–that black and white Americans were of the same fiber and same possibilities–was very much in the moral minority. King had the patience that justice would prevail in the cause of civil rights.
Gay rights activists, likewise consumed with a fervent faith in their cause, have long held that the moral universe would one day bend towards the full extension of rights to all Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation. Recent polling suggests that what gay rights activists initially saw decades ago, is now a widely held position. Even many of those opposed to marriage equality now see it as inevitable. But a fundamental question remains, if we can see where the debate is going, why not just get there? In other words, why must the moral arc bend so slowly?
Perhaps it shouldn’t. This point was driven home through a viral video that has received widespread attention in recent days. The video, which is actually an ad for internet conglomerate Google, features the story of an older, French gay couple who were able to be married by a Belgian officiant by using Google hangout. While waiting for marriage equality to come to their own country, one of the men said, “We don’t have 20 years ahead of us.”
Its easy to explain to younger people to be patient. But the gift of time isn’t afforded to everyone who is waiting to marry their partner. The arc of the universe could use a little human intervention so that everyone, regardless of how many years are ahead of them, can have the right to marry.
Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will likely give their rulings on California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. Though speculation is rife, it really is an open game. The Court, if it rules favorably to the cause of progress, most agree they will rule narrowly. If the Prop 8 people are found to have standing, they are likely to rule for marriage equality only in California. Regarding DOMA, or the Defense of Marriage Act, the court appears ready to strike it down based on the equal protection clause of the United States constitution.
There is political intrigue in awaiting the Supreme Court decisions on marriage equality. But for many Americans, the problem of marriage equality is more than a political gamble. Rather, for many of us, this represents the possibility for personal freedom and commitment. The freedom to love and marry and be protected based on that decision.
As a cultural institution, marriage is not without its problems. Through its long evolutionary history it has tended to subjugate women in dangerous and alarming ways. For centuries, marriage was not a contract between two consenting people, but was a formal arrangement for the sale and distribution of child-rearing women. As the equality of the sexes has been established, marriage has become a more fair and equal institution. Marriage has gotten better.
But it is not totally better, and won’t be until same-sex couples are given the legal right to marry their partners. This is where marriage as a cultural institution and marriage as a political institution come together. Namely, the culture of marriage will improve–it will be more just, equitable, and balanced–when its political breadth is expanded to include all Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation. In doing so, the arc of the universe will bend a little bit faster.
We hope tomorrow’s Supreme Court decisions are a helpful movement in that direction.
This is Maryann Martindale with this week’s edition of the Better UTAH Beat.
Have a great week, and remember, together, we can make a better Utah.
For more information, visit betterutah.org.