There has been a lot of chatter in the media recently about the upcoming oral arguments before the US Supreme Court on March 26 and 27 on two cases involving same-sex marriage. Hollingsworth v. Perry concerns California’s Proposition 8 that banned same-sex marriage but was later overturned by the courts. The second is United States v. Windsor that challenges the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). While these cases are undoubtedly important and interesting, their long-term effects are not as significant. The reason is that same-sex marriage is coming and the only question is whether it comes soon or sooner and the court cannot stop it.
If one looks at the range of possible rulings that could emerge from the two cases, the best result would be that the Supreme Court rules broadly that bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. That would immediately settle the legal issue, though there will be political and religious grumblings for some time. The worst result would be that the court rules that Proposition 8 and DOMA are both constitutional.
Within the parameters of these cases, there seems to be no possibility that the courts could rule that same-sex marriage is forbidden altogether. So at the most the court could slow down the process and that too only for a short while, since public opinion is shifting so rapidly. If same-sex marriage doesn’t come about via the courts, it will via the legislatures or referenda.
The latest Field Poll finds that in California support for same-sex marriage has jumped to a margin of 61-32%, a remarkable shift considering that Proposition 8 passed in 2008 by 52-48%. Similarly more and more Republicans are coming out in support of same-sex marriage, making the repeal of DOMA increasingly likely even if it is ruled constitutional. Over 100 prominent Republicans have signed on in support of overturning Proposition 8, including Meg Whitman who campaigned for it when she ran for governor of that state as recently as 2010.
All these public reversals are pretty sudden but Whitman’s is the most dramatic. It is possible that she was a secret supporter of same-sex marriage all along but was cynically opposing it to win as a Republican. But it is also possible that for many of these people we are seeing ‘the emperor’s new clothes syndrome’ in action. It is possible to sustain a belief in something that has no rational foundation as long as everyone around you thinks similarly. But as soon as that cocoon starts to crumble, the nakedness of one’s position becomes suddenly apparent and embarrassing. There was never any rational basis for opposing same-sex marriage and this realization may have come quite suddenly to many of these people.
It is possible for the same thing to happen with religion. There is no rational basis for it either and it too has the potential to collapse suddenly except that that cocoon will be harder to pierce since, unlike with same-sex marriage, massive international organizations have a deep vested interest in maintaining the illusion and fleecing their flock.