In early August, on a cliff above the ocean in Baja California, two of my favorite people made their wedding vows at dusk.
My niece Krissa and her partner Julia had asked seven friends to offer brief reflections on seven touchstones for a successful marriage. Friends spoke of authenticity, vulnerability, generosity, community, balance, humor and home. It was a lovely ceremony, and when the brides kissed, it was an emotional moment for all of us and proof, as if we needed it, that same-sex marriage is as romantic and meaningful as other marriages.
The glow lasted until I returned from Mexico to Los Angeles and began noticing a stream of email fundraising appeals from a man named Brian Brown, homophobic founder of the National Organization for Marriage.
Brown’s organization fights against same-sex unions, and his emails seemed like a personal affront. Oh really? Will these people never give up the fight against same-sex marriage?
After all, in December, President Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act, a bipartisan bill that codifies same-sex marriage and interracial marriage. Even Pope Francis understands that equal marriage is here to stay. One of the agenda items at the 2023 world gathering of Catholics that begins this week in Rome is whether same-sex couples deserve the church’s blessing. (This is not at all the same as allowing gay Catholics to marry in the church, but it is a slight softening of a very hard line against this.)
However, there are a few reasons why same-sex marriage suddenly seems fragile to some.
First, the reversal of Roe v. Wade by the ultra-conservative Supreme Court majority has given new life not only to anti-abortion crusades, but also to other anti-equality movements.
Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which suggested that the court might want to examine other seemingly settled issues, such as the legalization of contraception and gay marriage, might have at some point been dismissed as reactionary nonsense. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. had been quick to make clear in the majority opinion that Dobbs applied only to abortion. But as the court’s three most liberal justices expressed in their dissent: “Either the majority opinion is hypocrisy, or additional constitutional rights are threatened. It’s one or the other.”
Many gay rights advocates were shocked to the core by Thomas’ claims in his settlement with Dobbs. If gay marriage were somehow repealed, how would the legal rights of same-sex parents be affected? What would happen to their children? What should they do now to protect their families?
In Florida, two family law attorneys, Ryanne Seyba and Meaghan Marro, decided to offer, for free or almost, what are known as second-parent adoptions. Therefore, even if a marriage was suddenly deemed invalid, parental rights would be maintained.
In August 2022, Broward County Judge Mariya Weekes invited more than a dozen families to court to certify their second-parent adoptions. All the couples were women because, as Seyba told me, gay men who become parents together have usually already gone through the legal adoption process, while for lesbian couples, because one of the spouses has usually given to birth, there seemed to be no need because “it’s not about parenting there.”
Until Thomas’s suggestion in Dobbs jeopardized the rights of these families. How hostile could the Supreme Court be toward same-sex marriage if the current lineup of judges tries it again?
Here’s a clue: In 2019, Brown of the National Organization for Marriage made headlines after tweeting a photo of himself posing with Alito and Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, three weeks after they heard arguments in Bostock v. Clayton County, perhaps the most important gay case. human rights case to come before the court since it legalized gay marriage in 2015.
Alito and Kavanaugh, along with Thomas, would become the three dissidents in the Bostock decision, which found that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects workers from discrimination for being gay, lesbian, or transgender.
The disturbing National Organization for Marriage campaign that I came home to after my niece’s wedding jumps on the broadest anti-progressive bandwagon possible. The fundraising effort is called “NO.” That is, the union of two women is NOT a marriage, a transgender woman is NOT a woman, an embryo is NOT a choice.
I guess it’s to be expected that Brown and company will try to capitalize on the fears of gender-affirming drag queens, librarians, and doctors. But what was particularly offensive was the campaign’s false argument that gay marriage has weakened the institution of marriage, an outcome Brown takes credit for predicting.
As proof, Brown offers a recent Pew Research Center survey of 5,000 adults that produced some “shocking” results: Only 23% of Americans now believe that being married is extremely or very important to living a fulfilling life, and only 26 % believe that having children is extremely or very important.
The fact is, also according to the same Pew survey, the majority of American adults (married, single, gay, straight or trans) prioritize job satisfaction and friendship over marriage and parenthood.
That seems correct to me.
However, Brown describes this as “a tragic collapse of public belief” in traditional marriage and parenthood in the years since same-sex marriage was legalized.
I’ll give Brown this: Even he acknowledges that a different Pew survey also found that 61% of adults believe same-sex marriage has been good for society.
If most Americans think our country is better for allowing people to marry whomever they love, that hardly indicates a collapse that is “tragic.” Perhaps the best description is “a long time ago.”