In America, from the beginning, there has been the tension between the democratic process and the courts’ role in protecting the constitutional rights that are “inalienable,” in the words of the Declaration of Independence. The rule of the majority was at once celebrated and feared by the Founding Fathers of this country.
The gay marriage ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court is a historic decision that extends what has been for millennia the province of straight couples to those of gay and lesbian Americans. It also provokes the perennial debate about the constitutional rights of citizens and the will of the majority.
There is no getting around the fact that this decision, in line with the majority of court decisions on this controversy, annuls the democratically expressed view of the voters in many states, including Louisiana.
An old joke is that the courts follow the election returns; in this case, it’s a Supreme Court that is following a dramatic shift in the court of public opinion. Louisiana voters overwhelmingly passed a state ban on gay marriage in 2004. The decade since has seen a remarkable shift away from the old prejudices against gays and lesbians, but any gay rights initiatives have still been a tough sell politically in the state outside New Orleans. Only Shreveport has a new and recent gay rights initiative in its ordinances.
If there can be a legitimate regret that the Supreme Court did not allow public opinion to mature, there is little question that public acceptance of gay and lesbian couples has increased and earlier court decisions — involving tax and property rights of gay partners — paved the legal path for Friday’s decision. This is not a decision that came out of thin air.
All that said, we hope that this decision does not provoke an overreaction.
No, courts aren’t ordering churches with religiously based objections to perform gay marriage. In fact, the process of granting marriage licenses probably will take a while in Louisiana.
We hope there is no pointless political posturing against what is now the law of the land. Local officials have a duty to provide an orderly process for gay couples to marry legally in Louisiana.
Gov. Bobby Jindal has crusaded against gay marriage, and his opposition is not unexpected. “This decision will pave the way for an all-out assault against the religious freedom rights of Christians who disagree with this decision,” his campaign said. “This ruling must not be used as pretext by Washington to erode our right to religious liberty.”
We consider this a gross overreaction, as religious freedom seems to us unimpaired in this country.
The governor made himself seem ridiculous by suggesting that we can do without a Supreme Court.
Jindal’s statements are protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. That’s another right that does not depend on the will of the majority to enjoy protection of the courts of the United States.
The controversy is legitimate, but it should not devolve into bitterness. We live in a richly diverse state. Our history should compel us to focus on how we live together amicably even amid our many differences.