High court upholds liberty for gay couples

New York state was ahead of the curve in allowing gay marriage two years ago this week. On Wednesday, in a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court nullified the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, saying a federal law discriminating against same-sex couples violated the nation’s principles of equal protection.

DOMA blocked the federal government from giving marriage benefits to people – federal employees, for instance – who were married in states like New York that allow it.

The justices also let stand a lower-court ruling that it was unconstitutional for California voters to pass Proposition 8, which ended same-sex marriage in the state in 2008.

The high court did the right thing. A nation that prizes freedom should not deny same-sex couples the legal rights it grants opposite-sex couples. That’s unjust.

This ruling doesn’t overturn states’ laws blocking gay marriage, but gay rights supporters plan to return to the court in a few years for a decision on that. By then, we hope, the nation as a whole will be ready for it.

We do not advise anyone how they should feel about homosexuality, but we do believe that in this nation, the government has no business standing in the way of it – or, by extension, same-sex marriage.

Arguments we’ve heard against gay marriage are essentially ways to slow down public recognition of homosexuality itself, which is both real and legal. If one thinks it is disgusting, dysfunctional or deviant, that is irrelevant to this matter. That battle is over. In this country, relations in private between consenting adults are none of the state’s business. The government treats gay people the same as anyone else, except regarding marriage – although that’s changing.

There is no overriding public peril in letting same-sex couples tie the knot, make their (hopefully) lifetime commitments public and gain the civil benefits that come with that. Therefore, it should be legal.

That wouldn’t mean a church has to perform a gay wedding. As far as we’re concerned, no clergy member or even judge should be forced to perform a marriage ceremony against his or her will. It’s just that when a gay couple makes the same commitment a heterosexual couple does in marriage, it should be recognized as the same kind of legal contract.

The wave of homosexual acceptance is moving fast right now in our society. It’s too swift for many people, but history shows that social change sometimes works that way. We do worry that the speed of this movement will spark conflict, but in the long term, it is justice that best leads to peace.

Enough straight Americans know enough gay Americans at this point to have built a widespread understanding that people are people and that nothing about being gay makes a person less deserving of respect and civil rights. We hope people on both sides of this debate will be respectful and understanding in the months and years to come.