On Supreme Courting and Court Supremacy

Erin McDaniel ’15
Assistant Opinions Editor

When, sometime this summer, the Supreme Court renders its decisions on the two same-sex marriage cases it heard last week, media outlets will scramble to feature dramatic coverage of the decisions while advocates and citizens on both sides of the debate will feel either triumphant or defeated. When that time comes, the Supreme Court will speak, and the nation will listen and react to its apparently authoritative and frequently debate-deciding explanations of the vote tallies eventually reached by its justices.

In short: what the justices say matters – to on-the-books laws, to elected officials, and to citizens – and what they decide tends to carry the weight of finality. As such, a simple “yes” or “no” majority from the nine justices on the issue of same-sex marriage has always seemed a looming, and vital, litmus test of the issue’s future in America.

Ironically, though, the issue has finally reached our nation’s highest court during the first national moment in which a “no” from its justices would do little to no significant harm to the long-term trajectory of the cause. Last year, for the first time in the battle for same-sex marriage rights, the American public crossed over the 50% support threshold; a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that same number as high as 58% as of early 2013. Variously well-known public officials in both national and state legislatures have begun to flock behind their constituents en masse. Just months ago, the sitting president was reelected to a second term on a platform based, in part, in support of same-sex marriage.

Finally – or abruptly, depending on where you stand on the issue – same-sex marriage is truly an inevitable reality in the United States. The Supreme Court, particularly the justices known to hold actively anti-gay views, will render two decisions that matter to the country and the cause, but even if it were to hand down two resounding “no” rulings on the cases before it, same-sex marriage would march on into the same bright tomorrow.

Do these cases and the eventual Court decisions they will beget matter? One would need only ask a closeted thirteen year old boy in Mississippi or girl in North Dakota to understand that yes, of course, the way in which our nation’s highest court rules on the fundamental rights of LGBT Americans matters culturally and personally.

But politically? And decisively?

The time for significant Court impact in those arenas appears to be behind the forward-pushing engine of change moving throughout the country. The Court can scream, and stomp and belittle gay and lesbian citizens if it wants to – and previously would likely have done – but gay and lesbian citizens, not to mention their myriad of American supporters, will, for the first time, not be demoted or deterred. The cause would march onwards, ever more popular and public, while the Court would lag behind, feeling the weight of a decision that neither reflects the present nor predicts the future of the country it is sworn to protect from within its Washington chambers.

The Court’s decisions regarding same-sex marriage will matter, but they can only catalyze or slow – but not stop – the inevitable arc of the LGBT rights movement. The time to stop worrying about the Supreme Court and start planning your wedding, then, is now.

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