One step forward, ten steps backward? #LoveWins #MarriageEquality

While the decision today by SCOTUS is a huge victory for lesbians and gays in the United States, it is troubling how Justice Kennedy’s decision elevates marriage to the level of the supernatural.

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death.”

Perhaps his emotions got away from him, and who can blame him? This is a historic moment, and his words will likely be used in every gay marriage ceremony in the United States and beyond for decades to come. But the logic of the ruling, favorable though it is, rests on an outmoded notion of the monogamous middle-class family as the basis of social order:

“Finally, this Court’s cases and the Nation’s traditions make clear that marriage is a keystone of the Nation’s social order. See Maynard v. Hill, 125 U. S. 190, 211. States have contributed to the fundamental character of marriage by placing it at the center of many facets of the legal and social order. There is no difference between same- and opposite-sex couples with respect to this principle,yet same-sex couples are denied the constellation of benefits that theStates have linked to marriage and are consigned to an instability many opposite-sex couples would find intolerable. It is demeaning to lock same-sex couples out of a central institution of the Nation’s society, for they too may aspire to the transcendent purposes of marriage.”

While what he says is true, linking marriage and the social order bears a closer relationship to the history of eugenics than the history of lesbians and gays. Marriage as a social stabilizer, and as supernatural, has served us poorly in the past; I don’t see that extending that right, as necessary as that is, will change that.

I am not against marriage, just like I am not against birthday parties, but I am opposed to elevating marriage to the status of a foundational building block of social and political stability, and wrapping it in a cloak of sentimentality. Economic justice, for example, will go much further in creating social stability than will marriage.