A major battle for legal gay marriage in the United States was finally concluded on June 26, 2015 in a landmark decision by a divided Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority ruling that same-sex couples can now marry in every state of the union, establishing a consistent, nationwide policy that guarantees equal civil rights, regardless of sexual orientation or identification. Same-sex couples now enjoy the same legal rights and benefits as married heterosexual couples.
This long-awaited legal protection of same-sex marriage represents the culmination of a gay-rights movement that began in New York in 1969 with the “Stonewall Riots.” The “Rainbow Revolution,” advocating equal civil rights, has simmered and exploded in various locations since. Finally, this question has been settled in this country—for the whole nation and territories, not just one state at a time.
In a remarkable display of high level support for the court’s decision, President Barack Obama ordered that the exterior of the White House be lighted up with rainbow colors to celebrate. However, this progress cannot be taken for granted, particularly in the wildly unpredictable political climate ushered in by the 2016 election of President Donald Trump.
For American straight spouses who have already suffered the consequences of ill-fated marriages to gays, this vital court decision came too late. Their gay husbands or wives felt compelled, for a variety of individual reasons, to enter conventional male-female marriages. Nearly all such relationships eventually fail, with the straight spouse the most obvious victim. However, a mixed-orientation marriage that ends in divorce punishes everyone involved, including the gay partner and any children of the union. No one wins.
Existing legal protections may have diminished the number of mixed-orientation marriages in the U.S., though it did not end these mismatches altogether. Other significant societal factors remain, including family, social, career, and religious pressures.
A fundamental change in public attitudes will be the ultimate deterrent to mixed-orientation relationships. After a very slow start, public opinion here is moving toward broader acceptance of lawful marriage for any loving couple, regardless of sexual identification or orientation. It took a half-century to reach this point, but the pace has finally quickened. When societal acceptance advances sufficiently, that could end the straight spouse dilemma, as we know it.
The United States is only the world’s twenty-first country to legalize these unions nationwide and to guarantee all couples equal dignity in the eyes of the law. Such legal sanctioning of same-sex marriage remains an open question in other places in the world, and familiar debates and arguments can be heard in Australia and elsewhere. While this latest U.S. Supreme Court battle is won, there will certainly be continued push-back from states-rights advocates and others with strong negative opinions. Dissenting Court Justice Antonin Scalia scathingly called the ruling a “threat to American democracy.” It may take another generation for truly equal rights for all, but we appear to be moving in the right direction at last.