Opinion

The democratic triumph of gay marriage

Opponents of same-sex marriage lost this battle democratically, and they lost it in a rout

From Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's blistering dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges through a thousand angry tweets from the right-wing commentariat, you're going to hear a lot in the coming hours and days about the End of Democracy in America. A narrow majority of tyrants in black robes has usurped the Will of the People! It's Roe v. Wade all over again — unelected despots overturning popularly enacted law! Leviathan is upon us!

Don't believe it for a second. Last month, Gallup published a poll confirming what a hundred polls before it have made clear: Same-sex marriage, now supported by 60 percent of Americans, has swept the nation. Sixty percent isn't even close. And the shift in favor of gay marriage is so rapid that the number will likely reach supermajority levels (above two-thirds) within the next few years.

Opponents of same-sex marriage lost this battle democratically, and they lost it in a rout.

That means that today's historic Supreme Court decision, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, will be no Roe. Abortion remains a deeply divisive issue, with majorities supporting both first-semester choice and late-term abortion bans. The state of the law — with local legislatures working to limit access to abortion on several fronts and courts attempting to walk an increasingly complicated line balancing the clashing rights of women and fetuses — reflects the unsettled state of public opinion.

It's a mess. A minefield.

Not so with same-sex marriage. Whereas a reasonable argument can be made, with no reference to revealed truths contained in scriptural texts, that someone (a human being at an early stage of development) is harmed (fatally) in an abortion, no opponent of same-sex marriage has ever made a persuasive case that anyone at all is harmed by living under laws that permit gay Americans to marry.

I know: My friends on the other side of the argument will respond with outrage to this claim. "Look," they'll say, "Clarence Thomas cited Ryan Anderson in his dissent!"

True enough. But of course Clarence Thomas was already convinced. I submit that if the losing side in the same-sex-marriage debate had something, anything persuasive to say in defense of its position, we would have seen a much more slowly rising, and perhaps even a falling, tide on this issue. Instead, it's been a tidal wave — from virtually no support for gay marriage 20 years ago to solid majority status a single generation later.

Why has it happened? Has the Leviathan state imposed it on us from above? Hardly. It's happened because a rapidly expanding segment of the American people, reflecting on their own marriages and their own views on sex, can think no reason not to extend marriage rights to gay people — and all the well-meaning arguments on the other side have done nothing to change that fact.

Rather than railing against the judicial usurpation of democracy, honest opponents of same-sex marriage will recognize that democracy itself is the source of their defeat.

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