“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.” Obergefell et al. v. Hodges et al., U.S. Supreme Court Slip Opinion, 14-556, p. 28.
Marriage Evolves from Its Beginnings
No matter your opinion of the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision, it can’t be denied that in the Western world marriage evolves. The institution of marriage is being refined to pursue love as its core over procreation.
Most of us believe that those changes have moved us (especially women) in a freeing and positive direction.
- Women are no longer considered the property of their husbands.
- No longer is coverture the law (English common law provided that women had the right to contract and own property until such time as they were married; upon marriage that right was subsumed by the husband).
- Interracial couples are now legally permitted to marry and their children are no longer considered “victims” or “martyrs.”
- No longer are husbands legally permitted to physically “discipline” their wives.
- No longer is marriage defined to include a husband’s “right of sexual access.” However, it was not until the mid to late 20th Century that marital rape was even considered a criminal act.
- Bride price
- Child brides
- Forced marriages
- Arranged marriages
- All of these past institutions have fallen out of favor in the Western world.
While these decisions may not have popular at the time, in retrospect, most of us now agree that these evolutions of the institution of marriage were a positive force.
And now, marriage is no longer the exclusive purview of couples of the same gender.
Similarity Between Inter-Racial Marriage & Same-Sex Marriage
Legal arguments on both sides of the same sex marriage debate closely mirrored the arguments made decades ago on both sides of the interracial marriage case decided by the Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia in 1967.
As a civil rights attorney, nerdy me loved finding these audio clips of the arguments from Loving v. Virginia then and Obergefell et al. v. Hodges et al. now. While the language has been “prettied up” a little bit – the arguments remained largely the same.
One of the arguments in both cases centered around children in both interracial and same sex families. In 1967, children of interracial parents were argued to be “victims” or “martyrs” of these interracial relationships. Today, Justice Scalia inquired if the children of same sex parents weren’t subject to a “deleterious effect.” He made his inquiry despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of research reveals that children raised by same sex parents are at absolutely no disadvantage.
What Does This Evolution of Marriage Mean?
This is a landmark civil rights decision. I was both moved and excited by the Court’s decision – for people everywhere. I’m happy for couples everywhere who have been legally normalized. I’m happy for children everywhere who can now feel secure in their family structure. I’m happy for couples who now have financial security that they may not have had before now.
Just a smattering of the rights that straight couples have enjoyed that will now be available to same sex couples include:
- Child Custody Rights
- Estate Planning
- Medical Issues and Decisions for Incapacitated Spouses
- Real Estate and Business Planning
- Insurance Equality
- Employer Policies, Benefit Plans, and State Taxation
I’m also trying to wrap my head around what it means for me personally. Personally, it means that my partner of 20 years and I, with two young boys, can now get married and legitimize our family legally. I always proudly proclaimed, a la Oprah, that I didn’t need to be married – I was proud that we were together because we affirmatively chose, every morning, to continue our lives together. Not because we had a piece of paper that would make our dissolution difficult and complicated – which it would have been anyway.
I’m beyond happy that our two sons and so many other children now have a legally valid family structure and stability that must be recognized under the law. Marriage will make so many families more secure in so many ways – including financially. Married couples will also have the right to hospital visitations and medical decision-making for both each other and their children when necessary.
So along with the Western world’s definition of marriage, my thoughts and opinions about marriage are evolving and becoming more refined.
There is still work to do for all in our country to be free. Freedom remains indivisible, but we’re gaining ground one step at a time. And this decision was one of those steps.