Reverence

hands with wedding rings

Facebook has been turning itself into a rainbow today.  In fact, everything is coming up rainbows. I couldn’t be happier about it.

I’m referring to the reactions to the historic ruling that came out of the U.S. Supreme Court this morning, legalizing same-sex marriage. I’m thrilled about the ruling for a few reasons…

As a friend, of course, I’m joyful to know that my gay and lesbian friends are finally granted the dignity of equal to access to marriage.

As an American, I’m relieved to no longer live in a country where we commit the unconscionable transgression of imposing different rules for how love is to be recognized by different people. Few things are as fundamentally inextricable from the experience of being human as love, and that is true for all humans.  Love is love; that was the only thing we ever really needed to recognize.

And after the glitter and confetti have settled, I hope we will recognize that there was another important victory today, which is contained within the text of Justice Kennedy’s opinion.

I’ve seen the last paragraph of the ruling quoted repeatedly today, but I haven’t seen much comment on the rest of what he wrote. It’s a shame. He didn’t just pen a ruling about interpreting the Constitution; he colored his legal and historical analysis with profound, and in some cases, chilling statements about why the subject of marriage is so important.  Parts of it read like a love letter to marriage.

Justice Kennedy managed to write this landmark opinion without mentioning weddings — a subtle reminder, in these days of Pinterest, that the really important stuff comes after the Thank You notes have been mailed.

It’s just a legal document, but it’s filled with reverence. These days, we don’t encounter many things that truly celebrate the virtues of marriage. I applaud Justice Kennedy for taking the time to do so. And because of the historical significance of yesterday’s ruling, I’m pleased to think that the opinion will be read and studied widely, for years to come.

I hope Justice Kennedy’s words can help us restore a cultural sense of reverence toward marriage, rather than weddings. To me, reconnecting ourselves with that reverence would be another tremendous cultural victory — a victory for everyone, regardless of who may be wearing wedding rings.

In that spirit, I present below some of my favorite excerpts from the majority opinion in Obergefell et al. v. Hodges, Director, Ohio Department of Health, et al.:

Decisions about marriage are among the most intimate that an individual can make…. This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation.

It is demeaning to lock same-sex couples out of a central institution of the Nation’s society, for they too may aspire to the transcendent purposes of marriage.

Marriage is sacred to those who live by their religions and offers unique fulfillment to those who find meaning in the secular realm. Its dynamic allows two people to find a life that could not be found alone, for a marriage becomes greater than just the two persons. Rising from the most basic human needs, marriage is essential to our most profound hopes and aspirations.

The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times.

The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality. This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation.

Marriage responds to the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there. It offers the hope of companionship and understanding and assurance that while both still live there will be someone to care for the other.

It is of no moment whether advocates of same-sex marriage now enjoy or lack momentum in the democratic process.

Decisions about whether to marry and raise children are based on many personal, romantic, and practical considerations; and it is unrealistic to conclude that an opposite-sex couple would choose not to marry simply because same-sex couples may do so.

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. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

It is so ordered.

Read the full text of Justice Kennedy’s opinion here.

Photo by Leon Brocard (originally posted to Flickr as IXS_2631) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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