It’s been an exhilarating week in our country with history being made by the Supreme Court.
As you are well aware, yesterday the Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, a Clinton-era law which defined marriage as solely between a man and woman. This had the effect of denying federal benefits to thousands of couples who have been married under state law. At the same time they paved the way for California to reinstate same-sex marriage with a decision on Proposition 8.
The overturning of DOMA comes at the end of a long road of struggle and toil towards equality. We need only look at the recent history in our state, in which multiple political battles were waged and multiple grassroots efforts were organized, first for the inclusion of non-discrimination language in state law, then for domestic partnerships, and then for full marriage equality, first passed by the legislature and affirmed by the citizens of Washington.
While at the same time, it feels like things have progressed so quickly. Over the past few decades public opinion on marriage equality has changed radically and we are in a place on marriage equality in this country considered unthinkable not too long ago.
I’m convinced that the exponential trajectory of gay rights in this country has to do with personal relationships and connections. Once being gay became increasingly not something to hide in a closet, it increased not only the number of out gay people, but the number of people who knew an out gay person. As more and more people had openly gay friends, coworkers and family members, the more attitudes changed. It says a lot about the power of personal connection. Our relationships have the power to change our hearts and minds.
Which is what marriage is all about isn’t it? What I fear gets lost sometimes in the focus on the legal aspects of marriage is that marriage is more than a legal relationship. It is a spiritual relationship which brings two people together in a partnership of mutual concern and support. It is based in love, but also in compromise, sacrifice, work, compassion. While the legal steps to marriage are simple-a fee and a license-the spiritual steps are much greater and require more thought. Marriage is a relationship which has the power to change our hearts and minds.
And the Supreme Court affirmed what is being proven nationwide, that same-sex couples have the same potential to form such a partnership, and it is discriminatory to legislate otherwise. That all of our citizens must be equal under the law. It is a blessing to witness long-committed couples be validated and accepted by the state, and it is a blessing to know that couples just starting out will have the same access and benefits as granted to opposite-sex couples.
There is still work to be done, however. There are still many states that have yet to pass equal marriage laws, and a fair number have constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage. We can lend our support to that ongoing struggle for full equality.
And we know, that despite the positive efforts by the Court to affirm equality for gay citizens, those came the day after the Court dismissed key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. This, to me, was unfortunate because the Act maintained something that was still needed. Sometimes positive action by government is needed to correct for a history of discrimination, and the patterns of oppression which the Voting Rights Act sought to correct are still unfortunately still alive. Sometimes we need a little inequality to bring about equality.
In the Torah reading this week (parashat Pinchas), Moses is told to ascend to the heights of Abarim in order to view the Promised Land which he himself will not enter. He asks that God appoint a successor to take over for him after his death, and God chooses Joshua to assume the mantle of leadership. The community has come a long way under Moses, it was a feat to get to where they are–they are a long way physically and mentally from Egyptian slavery. And there is more that lay ahead.
Society evolves. That is what our Torah teaches and what the Court has proven yesterday. And it evolves through a combination of changed hearts and minds, committed relationships, a vision of justice and the blood and sweat of those who wish to see change. There is work to be done, but we ascend the heights and celebrate victories along the way.