On June 26, 2015 the Supreme Court of the United States announced its 5 to 4 vote decision that all states must allow same-sex couples to get married on the same basis and with the same rights as heterosexual couples. In the USA the legal battle about this is over. It seems clear in retrospect that the court moved slowly and lower courts generated scores of decisions leading up to this, which also had the effect of increasing public awareness and agreement. This was on purpose. It was no lightning bolt out of a cloudless blue sky. The only legal recourse for opponents of marriage equality is to get the US Constitution amended to specifically designate marriage as the exclusive right of heterosexual couples. Apart from legal measures, opponents might resort to dramatic protests or even foment civil disobedience, or try to twist this decision to political advantage. Those measures will not stop same-sex marriages because the majority of US citizens and a very much larger majority of younger citizens who are of “marriage and family-raising” age support marriage equality. The political tide has turned and politicians will notice the diminishing prospects of opposing marriage equality. A constitutional convention to amend the constitution will not happen either, for the same reasons.
In any case, the Supreme Court decision is worth celebrating. It is remarkable and laudable. It signifies that LGBT couples have equal status under the law in the USA, and is a signal that all gender minorities should have that status. It is a major event that has been noticed by hopeful and homophobic people alike around the world. It is inspirational. But gay kids are still mistreated and victimized. Equal treatment of unmarried gay people is far from widespread achievement.
Two other issues are more lingering and perplexing. One is religious opposition and the other is civil disorder. Religious institutions have been moving slower than American society as a whole to embrace marriage equality and to advocate human equality recognition for LGBTIQ people. The anti-marriage-equality rhetoric following the Supreme Court decision has been overwhelmingly religious in tone and terminology no matter whether the pronouncements were from religious leaders or politicians.
An alliance has developed between religious conservative groups and political conservatives. Since “conservative” is a vague term I will define it this way: “conservatives are opposed to change”. They are selectively conservative. They identify particular issues that they oppose. Then they undertake strategies to limit the effects of changes on those issues and to achieve agreements for mutual support from groups working toward parallel goals. The alliances involve cooperation and compromise. Religious conservatives opposed to abortions (because they have become convinced abortions kill “babies” who “exist from the moment of conception”) have allied with other religious groups with which they would otherwise not be apt to cooperate, which oppose birth control as interference in the natural process of reproduction. In time they share one another’s terminology. This alliance then forms a tacit affiliation with those who see a threat to civil freedom as any restrictions are put on, say, the ownership and use of guns, which courts an alliance with free-market advocates opposed to labor unions, financial regulation, taxation and other such measures that restrict entrepreneurial freedom and threaten profits. Some of the alliances create unlikely bed fellows, and specific targets can be absurd and unpredicted. Overall, however, religious ultra-conservatives are declining as the Millennial Generation comes of age and replaces recalcitrant obstructionists.
Meanwhile, anger is a danger. As every counselor knows anger is a mask of fear of loss. During the past few decades rage and outrage have been on the rise in America. Some see it having come to a boil during the terms of office of President Obama. Others trace it back to 9-11 which was a pivotal event in the complex “oil and Israel” struggles. Others attribute this anger to lingering effects of deceptions by the government over the conduct of the Vietnam War. Or to the US Civil War and reconstruction. Whatever the etiology, the present levels of anger could lead to major unrest if these armed and dangerous groups should find a cause and a charismatic leader that unites them. A few months ago it looked like immigrant rights might inflame the mob. Since all demographic projections predict a steady rise in non-Caucasians in the USA, with Mexicans in the lead, immigrant rights is unlikely to fade. Racism is another ongoing threat to justice and harmony. Since the entire American justice and law apparatus is biased against (and afraid of) people of color, this too could erupt into widespread violence as it has in the past, creating hysterical polarities. There is a strain of anarchy in America that simply opposes being regulated and controlled – or ruthlessly utilized and expended. Rebellion is ever incipient in America.
It seemed as if LGBT causes might coalesce the radical right wing leading to some configuration of issues that breaks down into formation of armed militia and the secessation of Texas (with Louisiana and Alaska?) from the USA. Nothing is too ridiculous to imagine. If 10,000 Christian pastors did decide on a mass self-immolation or martyrdom (as Glenn Beck has promised) all bets about the future of the USA might then be off.
However, all in all, I predict that the marriage equality struggle in the USA will turn out to be diversionary, temporarily diverting attention from more basic unresolved issues. [Which, of course, would leave LGBTIQ issues unresolved.] Consider this, the nation was built of immigrant groups, one after another, using the technology of effective ships to overcome the barrier of the wide oceans, to migrate and bully their way into sustainable residence, as migrating groups have always done since the dawn of the human race. New technologies always have facilitated these movements, but older techniques (like just walking in) are never completely ruled out. In the end power changes hands. Privileges brought by power are passed on to others. Those “in” are nudged aside. They don’t like it.
Insofar as marriage equality is concerned, it is a symbol that masculine Caucasians and their cultural formulations, having lost their empires in the last century, are now losing dominance even at home. That frightens them.
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Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.