If there’s one issue absolutely guaranteed to drive social conservatives crazy, it’s the rapidly shifting status of same-sex marriage in America. Once thought so powerful a political weapon that Republicans used it (to great effect) to help increase GOP turnout in the 2004 presidential election, marriage equality has now reached a level of acceptance—in both public opinion polls and legal rulings—that would have seemed unimaginable even a few years ago.
The latest blow to opponents of gay marriage came July 28, when the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted, 2-1, to uphold a lower court ruling invalidating Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban on the grounds that it violated the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. Now, while the idea that two grown people who love each other should have the right to marry seems fairly commonsensical to us, the ruling (predictably) did not play well with the intolerant and narrow-minded wing of Virginia’s Republican caucus.
Most offended, of course, was Prince William Delegate Bob Marshall, the sponsor of the original legislation that precipitated the constitutional amendment. “If judicial elites impose a radical and immoral marriage regime on American citizens in defiance of the laws of Nature and Nature’s God,” he thundered to Hampton Roads’ Daily Press, “the result would be to tear the social fabric in ways that can scarcely be imagined, nor contained by judicial arrogance.” Less bombastic, but equally moralistic, was Family Foundation of Virginia president Victoria Cobb, who told the Washington Post “it’s unfortunate that the court rejected the right of Virginians to define marriage consistent with their concern with what’s best for children and society as a whole.”
Compare those bitter, negative reactions to those of Virginia’s Democrats, and you get the sense that Old Dominion donkeys feel like they’re on the winning side of this issue. Attorney General Mark Herring, who famously declined to defend Virginia’s marriage ban in court, professed his pride in the fact that “the Commonwealth of Virginia is leading on one of the most important civil rights issues of our day,” while Gov. Terry McAuliffe hailed the ruling as “yet another example of how justice, equality and the people who fight for those values will always persevere in the end.”
Still, it’s not as if same-sex couples can start getting married right away. The initial circuit court decision will almost certainly be appealed, and the ruling of the three-judge panel will then be reviewed by the full court. After that, it’s likely on to the Supreme Court, which has its pick of cases to choose from. Although all circuit court rulings thus far have favored marriage equality, there’s a decent chance that the Texas circuit will uphold that state’s gay marriage ban, thereby creating a “circuit split,” which could very easily lead to the Supreme’s conservative majority deciding that each state can ban or approve marriage at will.
And yet, as it stands today, marriage equality is the law of the land in Virginia, and we couldn’t be happier. As Martin Luther King once said (and President Obama oft repeats), “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” In this case, we are quite certain (despite the protestations of a vocal minority of bigots) that justice will ultimately triumph.