Hello Everyone,

Last week, when news reached me about the Supreme Court’s decision that same-sex marriage is a civil right, I had the surreal sense that I was experiencing a truly historical moment.  It immediately caused me to imagine what it must have been like in 1954 at a similarly historic moment — when the Brown v. Board decision was handed down (I was a few months shy of my twelfth birthday and wasn’t paying attention – although I recall that my elementary school outside of Trenton, NY, had been de-segregated about five years earlier — small increments.)

As usual, President Obama’s remarks that morning eloquently placed the most recent decision in a larger, historical context.  He pointed to “the realities of changing times” and that “progress…often comes in small increments…and then sometimes…justice arrives like a thunderbolt.”  Changing times, small increments, and thunderbolts apply to both the 2015 and 1954 decisions. Here are some excerpts and, as usual, I commend their reading to you (see Attachment):

Our nation was founded on a bedrock principle that we are all created equal.  The project of each generation is to bridge the meaning of those founding words with the realities of changing times…

Progress on this journey often comes in small increments…propelled by the persistent effort of dedicated citizens.  And then sometimes…justice …arrives like a thunderbolt.

This ruling [is] a victory for gay and lesbian couples who have fought so long for their basic civil rights…It’s a victory for the allies and friends and supporters who spent years, even decades, working and praying for change to come. [Remember that the Stonewall Inn riots, which have come to be seen as the launching pad for the gay rights movement, took place in 1969, almost exactly forty-six years ago.]

And this ruling is a victory for America…When all Americans are treated as equal we are all more free.

…today, we can say in no uncertain terms that we’ve made our union a little more perfect.

That’s the consequence of a decision from the Supreme Court, but, more importantly, it is a consequence of the countless small acts of courage of millions of people across decades who stood up, who came out, who talked to parents — parents who loved their children no matter what.

…a reminder of what Bobby Kennedy once said about how small actions can be like pebbles being thrown into a still lake, and ripples of hope cascade outwards and change the world.

Likewise it is also worth reading the majority opinion written by Justice Kennedy, which contains similar themes (http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/14-556_3204.pdf ).  Here are some excerpts:

From their beginning to their most recent page, the annals of human history reveal the transcendent importance of marriage…

The ancient origins of marriage confirm its centrality, but it has not stood in isolation from developments in law and society. The history of marriage is one of both continuity and change. That institution—even as confined to opposite-sex relations—has evolved over time.

For example, marriage was once viewed as an arrangement by the couple’s parents based on political, religious, and financial concerns…As the role and status of women changed, the institution further evolved. Under the centuries-old doctrine of coverture, a married man and woman were treated by the State as a single, male-dominated legal entity…As women gained legal, political, and property rights, and as society began to understand that women have their own equal dignity, the law of coverture was abandoned.

In Loving v. Virginia, [the Court] invalidated bans on interracial unions [years after President Obama’s parents were married in Hawaii where there was no such a ban]…

It cannot be denied that the Court’s [previously-decided] cases describing the right to marry presumed a relationship involving opposite-sex partners.  The Court, like many institutions, has made assumptions defined by the world and time of which it is a part…

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.

Lastly, the 1954 decision to end school segregation also embraced the notion that our society’s conditions and norms change over time and our laws and the interpretation of our Constitution must change with them.

Reading Chief Justice Warren’s opinion for the majority is instructive in more deeply understanding the decision on same-sex marriage (http://www.nationalcenter.org/brown.html).  In many ways, the recent opinion could have used the earlier one, substituting “same-sex marriage” and “LGBT” for “de-segregation” and “Negroes.”  Changes in the conditions of society are also a central argument in the Brown decision.  Here are some excerpts:

[Arguments in this case were] largely devoted to the circumstances surrounding the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868.

… [the silence of] the Amendment’s history with respect to segregated schools is [due to] the status of public education at that time. In the South, the movement toward free common schools, supported by general taxation, had not yet taken hold…any education of Negroes was forbidden by law in some states.

Even in the North, the conditions of public education did not approximate those existing today. The curriculum was usually rudimentary; ungraded schools were common in rural areas; the school term was but three months a year in many states, and compulsory school attendance was virtually unknown. As a consequence, it is not surprising that there should be so little in the history of the Fourteenth Amendment relating to its intended effect on public education.

In the first cases in this Court construing the Fourteenth Amendment, decided shortly after its adoption, the Court interpreted it as proscribing all state-imposed discriminations against the Negro race. The doctrine of “separate but equal” did not make its appearance in this Court until 1896 in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson…involving not education but transportation.

In approaching this problem, we cannot turn the clock back to 1868, when the Amendment was adopted, or even to 1896, when Plessy v. Ferguson was written. We must consider public education in the light of its full development and its present place in American life throughout the Nation.

Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society.

We come then to the question presented: Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other “tangible” factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does.

In returning to the marriage decision, I was surprised to learn how late legalization came to this country.  Starting in 2001, twenty-one countries made that decision before we did, including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France, Spain, and the United Kingdom and, most recently as we all know, Ireland.  Note that many of these are considered “Catholic” countries.

Across well more than a half century, our Supreme Court has shown the capacity to adapt to changing times and issue an occasional thunderbolt.  Makes me proud to be an American.

Please, as always, pass it on.  And, remember that previous Obamagrams are stored on www.obamagrams.com


adobe pdf file

Attachment – Remarks by the President on the Supreme Court Decision on Marriage Equality 6-26-15


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