WASHINGTON — Fifty days ago Saturday, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that state laws that "exclude same-sex couples from civil marriage on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples" are unconstitutional.
"The Court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the court in Obergefell v. Hodges.
The court's resolution of the case would have been unimaginable almost two decades earlier, when Congress would pass and President Clinton would sign the Defense of Marriage Act into law in order to stop the federal government from needing to recognize same-sex couples' marriages — if any state ended up allowing them.
And yet, when the June 26 ruling did happen, it felt like more of a denouement than the climax — a response made possible, in large part, by the Supreme Court's own actions expanding the marriage equality map across the country before hearing the case resolving the question.
Although, as BuzzFeed News has reported, there are some holdout counties, they are only a dozen or so counties across the entire United States — not even a handful of states locked in battle with the federal government. And, so far as BuzzFeed News has found, these counties are not exactly ignoring the Supreme Court. They have stopped issuing marriage licenses altogether rather than have to issue licenses to same-sex couples.
And while there have been some efforts to advance legislation at the state and federal level to protect the religious viewpoints of those in government or business who oppose marriage rights for same-sex couples, few of those efforts have been successful. More significantly, this attempt to seek exemptions from laws is a far cry from the Federal Marriage Amendment that was voted on in Congress in 2006 and would have banned all states from allowing same-sex couples to marry legally.
Yes, there is litigation — but there always will be litigation. This is litigation at the edges of the issue, predominantly addressing the rights of those businesses that engage in providing wedding-related services to the public and those government employees and officials who are pressing for religious exemptions from needing to provide marriage certificates to same-sex couples.
And while there certainly are Republican presidential candidates who vehemently oppose same-sex couples' marriage rights, none of the top 10 polling candidates in the first Republican presidential debate in August — three of whom had questions posed directly to them about these issues — said anything negative about this right that was declared by the court in June.
In all, as BuzzFeed News detailed this weekend, same-sex couples are marrying across the country, in every state and Washington, D.C.
Marriage equality is not only the law of the land, it is a reality almost everywhere in the country — and that's about it.
On that 50th day since the court's ruling, civil rights leader Julian Bond died.
Bond, along with his friend John Lewis, have been two of the most outspoken civil rights leaders — back into the 1990s — pushing for equal rights for gay Americans.
Long before former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was saying that gay rights are human rights, Julian Bond, as early as 2007, was telling audiences that gay rights are civil rights.
"When I am asked, 'Are gay rights civil rights?' my answer is always, 'Of course they are.' 'Civil rights' are positive legal prerogatives — the right to equal treatment before the law. These are rights shared by all — there is no one in the United States who does not — or should not — share in these rights," Bond told an audience in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in April 2007.
"Gay and lesbian rights are not 'special rights' in any way. It isn't 'special' to be free from discrimination — it is an ordinary, universal entitlement of citizenship. The right not to be discriminated against is a common-place claim we all expect to enjoy under our laws and our founding document, the Constitution. That many had to struggle to gain these rights makes them precious — it does not make them special, and it does not reserve them only for me or restrict them from others."
Even then — in a country where only one state, Massachusetts, had marriage equality at that time — Bond said of marriage, "Why are we afraid of those who want their loving relationship to have the same benefits of the law's protections as most others have had since the country was founded?"
Bond lived to see that, for the vast majority of people, the country is no longer afraid. After more than four decades of fighting over the issue — from state courts incredulous that such claims were even being brought to them to hostile federal officials who corresponded with vitriol — the country is a changed one.
People like attorneys Mary Bonauto and Evan Wolfson — both of whom dedicated their lives to making marriage equality become a reality — deserve and have received significant credit for the country's response to the Supreme Court's ruling.
Bond said in his first address after taking over as the chair of the NAACP in 1998, "Martin Luther King didn't march from Selma to Montgomery by himself; he didn't speak to an empty field at the March on Washington. There is an enormous opportunity for service and for action available to each of us."
As heard in the words of people like Bond and Lewis and seen in the actions of ordinary people like Edie Windsor and Jim Obergefell, the same is true for the story of how marriage equality happened in America.
Julian Bond, speaking about gay rights in 2014:
Chris Geidner is the legal editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. In 2014, Geidner won the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association award for journalist of the year.
Contact Chris Geidner at email@example.com.
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