A federal judge has struck down Kentucky's law banning gay marriages from other states.
This historic decision, which is being rightly celebrated by the pro-LGBT community, sets an important precedent. By establishing that the constitutional guarantee to equal protection under the law applies to gay couples, it exposes the lie in the "states' rights" rhetoric embraced for so long by ideological homophobes like those that originally created the Kentucky legislation. A federally-protected right, after all, cannot be compromised by the caprice of politicians. While other federal courts may contradict the ruling by U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II, he has laid an important building block in what will hopefully become an edifice of full legal equality for the gay community.
He has also reminded our nation of the ideals of its founders.
As Judge Heyburn explained in his decision, although "religious beliefs ... are vital to the fabric of society ... assigning a religious or traditional rationale for a law does not make it constitutional when that law discriminates against a class of people without other reasons."
This echoes the words of Thomas Jefferson in his famous "Notes on the State of Virginia," wherein he observed:
"The error seems not sufficiently eradicated, that the operations of the mind, as well as the acts of the body, are subject to the coercion of the laws. But our rulers can have authority over such natural rights only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God. The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others."
Although leftists and libertarians may disagree with the position of those who morally disapprove of homosexuality, no one outside of the radical fringes in either movement challenges their right to hold those views. At the same time, preventing homosexuals from receiving the same rights enjoyed by heterosexuals blatantly violates their basic civil liberties. One can plausibly argue that the state shouldn’t be involved in the institution of marriage at all (which would effectively “legalize” it everywhere, since any church could perform the ceremony); the same cannot be said, however, for denying it on religious grounds.
Supporters of marriage equality should not be misled into thinking Judge Heyburn’s ruling is the final word on the subject. So long as there is homophobia in the hearts of the religious right, they will continue to construct new ways of impeding the rights of those who meet with their moral disapproval, from spurious John C. Calhounesque talk of small government to pseudoscholarly studies insisting that gay marriage is detrimental to society. Fortunately for anyone who favors gay rights, we don’t need new ways of supporting this important cause. The ideals of our founding fathers are as timeless now as they were when society had not yet advanced its pluralistic precepts to encompass our LGBT citizens. As James Madison wrote in The Federalist Papers: No. 10:
“The great danger in republics is that the majority will not respect the rights of minority.”