SCOTUS fight for marriage equality must be fair

By Editor-in-Chief

The Jan. 16 announcement that the Supreme Court will hear arguments about whether the 14th Amendment requires states to recognize same sex marriage is long overdue.

The Supreme Court has shirked delivering a ruling since gay marriage first made its way to the court in 1972 when it dismissed Baker v. Nelson. Since then, it has avoided the issue, often relying on lower courts to dole out interpretations, resulting in a state patchwork quilt of judicial activism intermixed with voter initiatives, granting and denying the right of marriage to millions of Americans.

The arguments on both sides of legalizing gay marriage never change. Opponents want to protect the sanctity of marriage while proponents want to protect families. The issue is clearly divisive and has prompted heated debate and claims on both sides, but the opponents of gay marriage have taken a step further into an illogical attempt at stymieing equality.

Following the announcement of the court’s decision to put gay marriage on its docket, the American Family Association, a Missouri-based advocacy group that pedals conservative family values and voracious campaigns against equality measures, released a statement calling on Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan to recuse themselves due to a perceived inability to remain impartial during deliberation. The American Family Association claims that Ginsburg and Kagan are incapable of being objective because they have previously officiated gay weddings, ignoring the fact that the weddings they officiated were of people they knew in their personal lives. Other gay marriage opponents were quick to join the call to action. 

Using Kagan’s and Ginsburg’s participation in gay weddings as the criterion for objectivity is a sad attempt by the conservative right to further hinder the judicial process. Though federal law outlines the expectations of judicial recusal, they are largely imposed—albeit poorly, if the infamous Citizens United case and the questionable involvement of Justices Clarence Thomas and Anthony Scalia with the Koch brothers is any indicator—when there is a financial conflict. 

Following the announcement, faith leader Pope Francis released a statement decreeing that redefining the traditional definition of marriage is dangerous and should be avoided at all costs.

Applying the American Family Association’s logic, would it be such a leap to require the six sitting Catholic justices to recuse themselves from the case? If a person has a history of following a faith that is known for its ardent opposition to same-sex culture, that seems like a conflict of interest. Shouldn’t the justices who have officiated straight weddings be held to the same standard? 

Such a notion would have the religious right calling foul, but it’s hard to feel sympathy for it when some of its advocacy groups are doing what they can to knock two noted liberals from the bench. In the end, Supreme Court cases are really just a numbers game, and with four justices considered the conservative wing and four others marked as the liberals, it is not hard to identify a group’s true motivation. 

With the 2016 presidential campaign season looming, hopeful Republican candidates are looking at the issue as an opportunity to garner support. For the most part their statements are ridden with their typical view of gays as second-class citizens. There are of course their obligatory cookie-cutter cries of state rights—with former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee leading the charge—but the court has the chance to end an argument that never really should have been a debate.

Regardless of party affiliation or ideology, there are two sides to the issue—one whose “religious freedom” is threatened and, if the court were to rule in favor of the conservative ideation of biblical marriage and a state’s apparent right to discriminate against its citizens, would celebrate the victory with its legally recognized family and move on to some other self-righteous anti-civil rights crusade with a smile and a Bible. 

The other side—the one that struggles for recognition of a relationship that defines the most precious thing: family—will either bask in the victorious culmination of a decades-long battle for equality or have to pick up the pieces of yet another crushing defeat. 

The issue may be decisive, but trying to stack the deck is cowardly and indicative that no matter how the Supreme Court rules, there is still going to be prejudice and those that would see gays and lesbians oppressed. Rather than try to derail the judicial process early on, both sides should step back and let this fight be a fair one.