Supreme Court Gay Marriage 2013: Could the Supreme Court (Of All Things) Rebuild Millennials' Faith in Government?


The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is currently weighing two cases that could have drastic impacts on the advancement of LGBT rights in this country. In one case, United States v. Windsor, the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has been called into question. DOMA bans same-sex marriage at a federal level and prevents same-sex couples from enjoying the 1,138 federal rights, privileges, and protections taken for granted by married straight couples. The other case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, challenges the federal constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, a state constitutional ban on gay marriage.

Beyond the immediately obvious opportunity to correct acute injustices levied against those who are in same-sex relationships, there is another potentially massive implication for those of us in the millennial generation: We might finally witness our government functioning the way it is supposed to function. 

This would almost be a novelty for our generation.

For most millennials, the idea that “government doesn’t work” is a given. Only about 22% of us trust the federal government to do the right thing. Even strident liberals will admit that government has real limitations and some big drawbacks. This makes sense for members a generation whose political lives more or less began with President Clinton declaring an end to the era of “Big Government,” the natural extension of President Reagan’s assertion that “Government isn’t the solution, it’s the problem.”

Examples of government failure (i.e. the “problem” of government) abound, ranging from the slipping performance of our public schools to our inability to address climate change to the ongoing jobs crisis. And given the vitriolic, hyperpolarized nature of our politics, government itself looks increasingly incapable of addressing even the most basic of these issues.

And while the judicial branch is not, politically speaking, necessarily the best place to reconcile major civil rights issues, it has been responsible for some the most important perfections to our Union. It would be a refreshing change of pace for our generation to finally see the government in action (as opposed to government inaction) and actively working to protect a minority group that has been the target of discrimination for millennia. Though not all millennials support same-sex marriage and broader LGBT rights, such an overwhelming majority of us do — more than 80%, according to ABC — that an affirmation and advancement of those rights from the federal government would go a long ways to rebuilding our faith in said government.

If the decisions go the right way — and there’s no guarantee they will, despite what you might read or hear in the mass media — it won’t be the end-all-be-all of government functionality. Our civil servants will still have a lot more work to do in restoring trust in our government. And speaking as a small business owner, I absolutely believe that the public sector still has a lot to learn from the private sector when it comes to transparency, efficiency, and organization. I’m all about community organizing, but we absolutely need more MBAs serving the public good, too.

Before that happens, though, we need a sign that government can work — and though it’s impossible to say for sure, a sweeping pair of landmark rulings from the Roberts Court advancing civil rights just might do the trick.