Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Institutions In Ruin

Every institution of American life goes through its ups and downs, from being trusted to being reviled, and usually back again.

It's happened with banks and corporate Wall Street firms, who are currently far more hated than trusted by most Americans. It's happened with the idea of universal background checks for guns - at one time, a suggestion of the NRA's creation, now an idea that 91% of Americans support. In fact, this pattern of institutional collapse and regrowth happens so often, media personality and scholar Chris Hayes wrote a whole book about it.

We're hoping this week that the nine justices of the Supreme Court don't join that long list of ruined institutions in the course of adjudicating two civil rights cases involving another institution - marriage.

As we've stated for years, when we talk about marriage we generally mean "civil marriage," the type of contract that non-religious governments around the world acknowledge between any two qualified adults, many without regard to the sexual orientation of the two parties signing the contract.

That word "contract" is really the key, as - at its most basic level - both the Prop 8 and DOMA cases are the Supreme Court hearing two arguments about contract law. That's not exactly the story of cataclysmic ruin you might hear grousing about at the local diner or watering hole.

From the highly biased screed of knuckle-dragging Cro-Magnons at the Wall Street Journal editorial page, to the mewling of certain Republican politicians desperate for extremist attention from the media, while it's no longer a majority, there are still significant numbers of Americans who think allowing same sex marriage will somehow ruin the institution of marriage.

Thankfully, from NFL players to Karl Rove, that attitude is changing, as opposition to same sex marriage is rapidly wanes. From Republicans like Sen. Rob Portman, to Democrats like Sen. Mark Warner, public opinion on same sex marriage is shifting quickly in favor of tolerance. As a recent CNN/ORC survey notes, as more people acknowledge that they know and care about someone who is gay or lesbian, their tolerance and understanding of LGBT issues rises.

If we are all lucky, this list of more tolerant, sensible people might even include Chief Justice John Roberts soon. Robert's cousin, an out lesbian, will be present in the Court for both arguments over same sex marriage this week.

With all the numbers pointing towards a change in attitude from Americans towards legalizing same sex marriage, we still feel it's important to note: The Supreme Court does not pay attention to the popularity contests of American politics, nor should they.

Whether or not America likes the institution of the Supreme Court (they don't, currently), or whether Americans, as a whole, believe same sex marriage should be legal (a majority do), should not have much impact on the decisions by the Court on these two issues.

What should make a difference is what the law says.

Hopefully, the nine justices will renew our faith in the institution of the Supreme Court this week.