The title of this post comes from a quote of Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, in which the Supreme Court of the United States (affectionately known as SCOTUS) made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states last year.
As Bill Chappell reported for NPR at the time, Justice Kennedy wrote, “They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
When such a case comes before SCOTUS, it has potential to effect sweeping change, as this one did. Prior to the ruling, states were free to decide on their own. That’s what happened in the early 1970s, when Maryland became the first state to affirmatively ban same-sex marriage.
Fast forward to 2013.
That is when Jim Obergefell, who ultimately became the lead plaintiff in Obergefell v. Hodges, sued our state of Ohio because it would not recognize his marriage to John Arthur.
SCOTUS ruled in 2015 and the rest is history for LGBT rights. Or is it?
The “bathroom law” is a lesson in federalism.
Federalism in the U.S., in general, refers to the power structure between the states and the federal government. “Federalists” tend to believe that individual States should “think for themselves,” so to speak, and reserve only a handful of powers to the federal government. Thus, states are laboratories of democracy.
You see this concept play out in a wide variety of scenarios, from the legalization of recreational marijuana in Washington and Colorado, to North Carolina’s transgender law (known colloquially as a “bathroom law”). This law prohibits transgendered individuals from using the “wrong” public restroom in state schools and government agencies.
Not only is the nature of injustice that we may not always see it in our own times, as Justice Kennedy wrote in his landmark ruling on same-sex marriage, but the nature of democracy itself (and federalism as described above) practically ensures it.
It’s up to all of us to rise to the challenge.
Amy M. Levine & Associates has a long history of advocating for same-sex couples in family law, from marriage and divorce to adoption and estate planning. Same-sex marriage was once unthinkable in this country. But times change. If you face a family law or other legal challenge, call 614-360-2942.