The landmark ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act by the Supreme Court Wednesday may have fallen short of what some gay rights activists were hoping for, but most likely, that is only a temporary impediment. The decision was not the sweeping kind of mandate that would force all states to adopt legal gay marriage, but it may very well be a precursor for one.
Essentially, the issue boils down to a simple equation at this point. The federal government, in the wake of this hotly contested ruling, must recognize legal gay marriages and grant all federal benefits and such that are administered to straight married couples. However, at this point, the ruling still leaves each state’s ability to make its own laws regarding same-sex marriage intact. Basically, if a state has approved gay marriage, then those marriages are automatically going to receive full credibility from the federal government. In states that steadfastly continue to outlaw gay marriage, the ruling doesn’t really matter, because it is still not possible to have a legal gay marriage from their state.
So, based on that description of what has happened here, some people that are against gay marriage might think this was at least a partial victory. A complete Supreme Court mandate would have been a much bigger defeat for those groups, but it may be that the Supreme Court knows how the game is played better than anyone and, to use a basketball term, is giving itself an assist.
Think about it. Now that the federal government has officially chosen to recognize “legal gay marriages,” it will now only be a hop, skip, and a jump before someone in a state that still bans gay marriage to bring it back to the Supreme Court as an individual one state issue. By not going too broad on this ruling, the Supreme Court is simply tearing down the wall a brick at a time and working within its own framework. Within the next year or so, expect someone to bring another case (if not hundreds), and before you know it, a very similar but much more comprehensive case will be on the docket again, this time the one that will truly decide the issue for America once and for all. It will also, as everything in America’s politic-centered world, fall around the next round of elections, so the politicization of this is also a very real issue.
So, whichever side you fall on this one, you might be able to parlay this into a victory for now. However, it seems that the direction this issue is going is still clear, and today’s ruling may only be a formality, a stepping stone to bring about change in an orderly and legally bulletproof fashion.