Today marks exactly half a year since the supreme court of the United States decided that it was unconstitutional to ban same-sex marriage. At the time this ruling received quite a lot of attention not only in America but also here in Europe. I remember how a lot of people applied a rainbow filter to their Facebook profile pictures and so on. There was however one particular aspect of this supreme court ruling that I didn’t see brought up anywhere, and that I thought it might be interesting to point out now that some time has passed.
At the time of the Obergefell ruling I heard a lot of people claim that it was a sign that the United States was now a more tolerant country or had become more like western Europe or something like that. The ruling was interpreted as a victory for the progressive side in the culture war and a setback for conservatives, it was also talked about as just one of many such liberating changes that had happened in recent times. References were made to the public referendum on same-sex marriage that was held in Ireland earlier this year. But there is a difference between what happened in the United States and what has happened in Ireland, or for that matter in countries like France or Sweden.
In Ireland the issue of same-sex marriage was put to a public vote and a majority voted in favor of legalizing it. The fact that a majority voted in this manner makes it evident that some form of change in the culture has already taken place in that country. In France, as well as in Sweden, same-sex marriage was legalized by a vote in the respective countries’ parliaments, by representatives that had earlier been elected by the people. This means that the connection between the legalization of same-sex marriage and tolerance for it in the general culture can be said to be greater in those countries than in the United States.
This isn’t just a random observation, there is a point to be made here. On one hand the Obergefell decision by the supreme court of the United States obviously made life easier for many individuals, in matters such as inheritance, hospital visitation rights and so on. There is therefore a practical case that can be made for why the decision shouldn’t be postponed, for the sake of these individuals, something I of course recognize. But there are ways in which same-sex marriage could have been legalized in the United States that in a better way would have proved that the culture there has now changed so as to tolerate it.
Consider as an example the possibility that the legalization of same-sex marriage had become a relevant issue in the coming congressional elections of 2016. Then imagine that each candidate had taken a stand on the issue one way or another after which a congress would have been elected where the majority were in favor of same-sex marriage. Congress then legalizing it would have made the legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States more comparable to what happened in Sweden or France. This would have been much more deserving of people applying rainbow filters to their Facebook profile pictures than the more bureaucratic maneuver performed by the supreme court.
This may seem like a trivial point to stress, but I suspect that in the near future this issue will not fade out of relevance in the United States in the same way that it will in western Europe. Most likely, as I suggested above, the benefits of legalization for many individuals was great enough that the matter couldn’t be postponed. The debacle with the county clerk in Kentucky, however, shows that this argument in the United States is not yet over. Those who favor legalization of same-sex marriage will have more of a reason to celebrate when there hasn’t been any absurdities like the one in Kentucky for a while then they had when the supreme court made its decision. Today, six months after Obergefell, I suspect that actual public opinion on this in the United States, regardless of what some Europeans wrote on Facebook, is pretty much the same as it was just before the decision was made this June.