“We made a commitment to each other in our love and lives, and now had the legal commitment, called marriage, to match. Isn’t that what marriage is? … I have lived long enough now to see big changes. The older generation’s fears and prejudices have given way, and today’s young people realize that if someone loves someone they have a right to marry. Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the ‘wrong kind of person’ for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. … I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.” — Mildred Loving, “Loving for All”
Last night, only days after hearing oral arguments in the case, a Virginia federal judge struck down the state ban on same-sex marriage, writing unequivocally that “[t]radition is revered in the Commonwealth, and often rightly so. However, tradition alone cannot justify denying same-sex couples the right to marry any more than it could justify Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage.” The judge opened her opinion with the quote, above, from Mildred Loving, the plaintiff in the 1967 challenge to Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage. She thus joined a unanimous and ever-expanding collection of federal judges who have chosen to answer the question left up in the air by the Supreme Court last Spring: Did the Windsor decision–striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act–pretty much strike down gay-marriage bans as well?
It didn’t have to play out this way. Once the elation of victory died down following the court’s Windsor decision in June, everyone found themselves asking the same question–what does this case mean for all of the other cases raising questions about gay and lesbian equality? The answer wasn’t 100 percent clear at the time. As he’s done in the past, Justice Anthony Kennedy authored a decision producing sweeping results, but rooted it in less than crystal clear reasoning. This was because Windsor has two independent parts that barely speak to one another.