I've got some Good News on marriage justice. Let's take recent events in something approaching chronological order.
Let's start by remembering that on October 7, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down state bans on same-sex marriage in Idaho and Nevada. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy issued a stay of the order when Idaho said it wanted to appeal. Embarrassingly, he had to amend the order several hours later when it was realized the stay also covered Nevada even though that state had no intention of filing an appeal.
Either way, it was clear that Idaho had little chance of having its appeal heard by the Supreme Court when the issues involved were all but identical to those in the appeals of the five other states whose appeals SCOTUS had already rejected, so on October 10, the Court lifted its stay. On Monday, October 13, the 9th Circuit Court dissolved the order, making same-sex marriage legal in Idaho. Such couples could begin marrying on October 15.
Meanwhile, on Thursday the 9th, acknowledging its loss at the Supreme Court, West Virginia began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, followed by the most populous county in Kansas doing so the next day.
Then on Sunday, October 12, US District Court Judge Timothy Burgess struck down Alaska’s state constitutional provision limiting marriage to one man and one woman, issuing his ruling just two days after hearing oral arguments. Burgess wrote:
Refusing the rights and responsibilities afforded by legal marriage sends the public a government-sponsored message that same-sex couples and their familial relationships do not warrant the status, benefits and dignity given to couples of the opposite sex.Alaska was the first state to put such a ban in its state constitution, having done do in 1998. It is now the latest ban to fall before the requirements of the US Constitution. Marriages there were to begin on October 16.
And finally, on Monday the 13th, Wisconsin, one of the five state whose appeal was rejected, formally threw in the towel, announcing that 500 same-sex couples who had gotten married before the lower-court order which tossed out its discriminatory ban was stayed, will be recognized by the state and that the state will treat same-sex and opposite-sex couples the same way regarding marriage.
As a quick sidebar, Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell said Sunday he would appeal the district court decision but it seems pointless since the 9th Circuit has already ruled on the issue and as I mentioned last week, SCOTUS is unlikely to take up any appeal until and unless some Circuit Court rules against marriage equality, thereby creating a conflict among the various circuits. Meanwhile, the beat goes on.
In fact, here's something for you: There is a new Vatican document, prepared after a week of discussions among 200 bishops on the church's views of the family. It's intended to form the basis for a discussion of the Catholic Church's institutional attitude toward gays and lesbians as part of a synod on the family called by Pope Francis.
This document has been called "a stunning change," "revolutionary," and "an earthquake" in the Church's attitude towards gays and lesbians and their relationships.
The document declares that homosexuals have "gifts and qualities to offer" and that the church should recognize that same-sex relationships can have positive aspects, that partners in same-sex relationships can offer each other "mutual aid to the point of sacrifice [which] constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners." It encourages the church to find "a fraternal space" for gays and lesbians.
Now, it says all this while also saying the church needs to find a way to do this without compromising Catholic doctrine on marriage and the family, which means it does not call for change in the church's opposition to same-sex marriage or in its condemnation of homosexual acts. (Parenthetically, the institutional church does not regard being homosexual as sinful; however, homosexual sex is.)
For that reason, for those of us standing on the outside, this may not seem like much. But when you remember this document, again, will form the basis for discussion of the church's institutional attitude toward gays and lesbians, and you put this call for being more welcoming and less judgmental up against the present church position, which calls homosexuality "intrinsically disordered," when you consider that in response to this document, a conservative Catholic website blamed it on "perverted clerics" and Cardinal Raymond Burke, head of the Vatican court, actually warned against Catholics welcoming gay couples into their homes, you can see that yes, this is a dramatic shift, emblematic of the fact that even the Catholic Church is being dragged - well, at least into the 18th century.
But, again, the battle is not over.
North Carolina is one of the states that has given up the fight and recognized the legality of same-sex marriage. Even so, on Monday state Magistrate Gary Littleton, in Pasquotank County, North Carolina, refused to marry two men on the grounds of his religious belief that marriage is one man and one woman.
Meanwhile, a federal judge in North Carolina has allowed Republican lawmakers there to intervene in a pair of challenges to the state's now-defunct ban on same-sex marriage, which could enable them to appeal those cases to the Supreme Court. Again, the Supreme Court is unlikely to accept those appeals, but we have to remember that the dead-enders are still with us.
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