It Is So Ordered

[Content Note: Homophobia; misogyny; religious supremacy.]

There are a lot of reasons I really love Justice Anthony Kennedy's opinion on Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage nationally. But my favorite thing is how he turned same-sex marriage opponents' arguments on their head, while explaining the court majority's reasoning behind their landmark ruling.

In a very real way, lots of Kennedy's descriptions of marriage are antiquated, although his emphasis that marriage is not "less meaningful for those who do not or cannot have children" and reminder that the "ability, desire, or promise to procreate is not and has not been a prerequisite for a valid marriage in any State" were both very welcome. Even the very idea that a state-recognized partnership is inherently more meaningful than people who have the option to marry but simply choose to be together without a legal bond is antiquated.

Which is kind of fitting, really, given how long past due we are to enact this basic right. That the Court's view of marriage in the US is so dated is sort of a perfect and terrible commentary on the regrettable delay of this decision.

The opposing respondents' views of marriage are even more shrouded in impenetrably hostile retrofuckery, and it is here where Kennedy's arguments really shine.

Using language hovering somewhere between poetry and hyperbole, Kennedy waxes rhapsodic about the (supposed) specialness of marriage: It "allows two people to find a life that could not be found alone" and "is essential to our most profound hopes and aspirations." He sings the institution's praises so unreservedly and enthusiastically that one imagines marriage equality opponents couldn't help but agree.

Kennedy also concedes their essential argument—that marriage is indeed a precious tradition. "The centrality of marriage to the human condition makes it unsurprising that the institution has existed for millennia and across civilizations. Since the dawn of history, marriage has transformed strangers into relatives, binding families and societies together. ...There are untold references to the beauty of marriage in religious and philosophical texts spanning time, cultures, and faiths, as well as in art and literature in all their forms."

And then Kennedy pivots, arguing that the acknowledgment of marriage's cultural importance and central role in the nation's traditions is precisely why it cannot be denied to same-sex couples.
This Court's cases and the Nation's traditions make clear that marriage is a keystone of our social order. ...[J]ust as a couple vows to support each other, so does society pledge to support the couple, offering symbolic recognition and material benefits to protect and nourish the union.
He further addresses their argument that marriage cannot be changed for its value to be preserved, observing that marriage has, in fact, changed: It has changed to recognize that women are not properties of their husbands; it has changed to recognize that women are autonomous beings within their marriages, not a merged entity with their husbands; it has changed to recognize and equally value interracial relationships.

These changes, Kennedy notes, "were not mere superficial changes. Rather, they worked deep transformations in its structure, affecting aspects of marriage long viewed by many as essential."

And, contrary to the opposing respondents' claims that changing the institution of marriage undermines it, Kennedy observes: "These new insights have strengthened, not weakened, the institution of marriage."

There is much, much more to appreciate in the Court's ruling. Among those things is the Kennedy's repeated refusal to equivocate, the repetition in stating what has been decided: "This analysis compels the conclusion that same-sex couples may exercise the right to marry. ...The limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples may long have seemed natural and just, but its inconsistency with the central meaning of the fundamental right to marry is now manifest. ...It is now clear that the challenged laws burden the liberty of same-sex couples, and it must be further acknowledged that they abridge central precepts of equality. ...The Court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry. No longer may this liberty be denied to them."

No longer may this liberty be denied to them.

"The Court, in this decision, holds same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry in all States. ...They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. It is so ordered."

It is so ordered.

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