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Tilly: The fierce urgency of soon

BY ZACH TILLY | MARCH 29, 2013 5:00 AM

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Tuesday afternoon, as the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry, a challenge to California’s 2008 same-sex-marriage ban known as Proposition 8, Justice Samuel Alito informed the court that same-sex marriage — like human genome mapping or the Baconator — “is newer than cell phones or the Internet.”

Alito’s rather blithe comparison was part of his broader argument that same-sex marriage is progressing too quickly; basically, his concern is that we’re looking to approve same-sex marriage without having had time to measure its sociological effect in places such as the Netherlands, where same-sex marriage has been legal for more than a decade.

“… There aren’t a lot of data about its effect,” Alito said. “And it may turn out to be a good thing; it may turn out not to be a good thing.”

In many ways, this argument has morphed into a desperate, final position for opponents of same-sex marriage — Supreme Court justices and others — who have seen their public support dwindle and their moral high-ground erode remarkably quickly over the past few years.

But “It’s too soon” — similar to previous arguments against same-sex marriage — is factually suspect and reflective of a dangerous misunderstanding of the nature of the change currently underway in the United States.

Alito’s version of the argument is based on two claims: first, that same-sex marriage is indeed newer than cell phones and the Internet and, second, that we don’t understand same-sex marriage’s potential effect on society.

On the first point, Alito is — in a sense — correct. The Netherlands became the first country to allow same-sex marriage in 2001, well after the widespread adoption of cell phones and the Internet. But approval of same-sex marriage existed in mainstream American culture well before 2001.

One such example that has been resurrected on the Internet this week is a very special 1991 episode of “The Golden Girls” in which the normally feisty Blanche Devereaux has trouble coming to terms with her brother’s planning to marry a man. Her friend and housemate Sophia, who is very old and has seen it all, teaches Blanche that all her brother wants is a chance to make his relationship official. It’s great, Google it.

But the more problematic component of “It’s too soon” is the notion that same-sex marriage could have some unforeseen negative societal implications, chiefly for children. This concern was raised on Tuesday by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who argued that there isn’t enough evidence to know exactly how being raised by gay parents affects kids.

Though Kennedy and Alito choose to reserve their judgment on the current body of research on same-sex parenting, many groups, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, have come to a definitive conclusion. A comprehensive analysis of more than 30 years’ worth of research released last week by the academy found “that children raised by gay and lesbian parents have demonstrated resilience with regard to social, psychological, and sexual health despite economic and legal disparities and social stigma.”

Further, the report suggests that “[b]ecause marriage strengthens families and, in so doing, benefits children’s development, children should not be deprived of the opportunity for their parents to be married.”

Contrary to the beliefs of the Too Sooners, there is no need to wait and see on this subject.
As U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, arguing on behalf of the Obama administration, pointed out on Tuesday, “It’s too soon” has been trotted out by conservatives before.

Verrilli noted that the chief argument made against interracial marriage in the 1967 case Loving v. Virginia was that the science was still out on how biracial children would fare in American society.
As Maureen Dowd pointed out in her New York Times column this week, “a biracial child is faring pretty well in his second term in the Oval Office.”

See, “It’s too soon” is and has been little more than a desperate ploy to slow inevitable societal progress toward equality. Those who decry this rapid social change have a fundamentally flawed understanding of the change happening right now in the United States.

For those who think this is all happening a little too quickly, the march toward marriage equality represents a move away from “traditional” marriage and morality, a journey away from some idealized time when marriage was for a man and a woman and, goshdarnit, that was that.

In reality, society isn’t moving away from some gee-whiz, mom-and-pop moral tradition, it’s leaving behind a culture that has shamed and bullied and hidden gay people since time immemorial. It’s running away from a system of institutionalized discrimination that denies equality and basic human dignity to people on the arbitrary basis of their sexual preferences.

As the Supreme Court weighs marriage equality, this country is on the verge of closing a particularly shameful chapter in its legal history.

It can’t happen soon enough.


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