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Why the battle for same-sex marriage is over

Whichever way the Supreme Court rules, everybody wins



I'd like to be among the first to announce: The fight for gay marriage is over.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in two cases related to same-sex marriage. One challenges California's ban on gay marriage known as Proposition 8. The other questions the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA. Perhaps you heard about them?

Media pundits are offering their predictions about how the justices will decide — rulings might be delivered in June — but the truth is that no one knows for sure. The nine justices are free to rule as they choose.

Among the many potential outcomes is an intriguing and hopeful one: full equality for gay and lesbian people in all 50 states. It's far from a certainty, but the possibility is mind-bending. The justices could determine that the U.S. Constitution protects the rights of gay people as forcefully as they determined it protects the rights of corporations.

However, the justices' questions and comments during these hearings made it seem likely that they'll duck the big question about equal treatment and deliver rulings based on smaller issues. Informed observers agree that the likely outcome of such an approach would be that Prop 8 is narrowly overturned to affect only California, allowing marriages to resume there, and that Section 3 of DOMA is overturned, allowing the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages performed by the states.

In short: a big step forward, but a much smaller step than the full equality scenario described above.

It's interesting to contemplate what such a decision might mean for the country and for Georgia, where voters approved a gay marriage ban in 2004.

The once extremely unpopular idea of gay marriage has been gaining support with a speed unprecedented for controversial social issues. It would continue apace after such a ruling. In the following years, more and more blue and purple states would begin to recognize marriage equality through state law. Or even through voter referenda to overturn anti-gay amendments. The final holdouts would be — does anyone doubt this? — the former slave-and-segregation states, including Georgia.

There are so many great things to love about Georgia, but a willingness to embrace constructive change has never been among its admirable qualities. I tend to think of Georgia the way you might think of a mentally deranged family member. You certainly don't love him or her any less, and you try not to take it personally when they say or do things that are insulting to you. You just remember that they don't know any better. But there's no denying: Georgia is a severe case.

Still, it's almost impossible to imagine a scenario in which gay people in deep red states remain unequal for long. The court's half-measures would create a legal situation so lopsided that the justices would eventually be faced with the same question again. And again. And again. What is the government's interest in depriving same-sex couples equal access to marriage? The justices can't punt that one forever. A "states' rights" argument doesn't cut it, because even a state must eventually give a reason for depriving its citizens of the rights that are enjoyed by others. The reasoning is already on legally tenuous ground, and is unlikely to become more persuasive with time.

Bereaved gay and lesbian people would no longer have strange relatives coming into their homes after their partner dies to claim their possessions and assets. Hospital visitation would no longer depend on strangers' acts of grace or prudence, but would be a legal right. As would the more than 1,000 other legal rights that couples enjoy only through marriage.

But perhaps most importantly, the United States would make good on its initial promise of not dividing its citizenry into separate classes based on arbitrary characteristics of no real legal interest to shower one caste with benefits while depriving others of rights and dignity.

This particular decision remains to be seen, but last week did make certain that the fight is over. The undeniable subtext of everything that was said, both inside and outside the courtroom, was that opponents are now just delaying the inevitable. The process of implementing a victory has begun.

Hats off to all the straight allies. Welcome to those who join us in our call for freedom and fairness. Implementing a victory still requires allies, and your crucial supporting voices will help us make history. Together, we'll continue to unlock all the implications of what it means to found a country on the notion that everyone is created equal.

Gay people's "war on marriage" is over. And it was a funny sort of war, wasn't it? No casualties, no injuries, no destruction of any kind to anyone or anything. The spoils of this victory — equality, love, and freedom — will be shared by all, and they'll benefit everyone. (Leave it to the gays to even make war fabulous).

For our next act, we'll do something even more extraordinary. We'll bring style, energy, and gender equality to marriage, which is the prospect that has frightened the anti-gay brigade from the very beginning. Great days lie ahead, whatever the court decides. It gets better and better and better.

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