On Thursday, the California Supreme Court issued a historic ruling that overturned a law denying gays and lesbians equal access to civil marriage. For millions of people like me, it was a moving moment - a moment where we were recognized as being equal in every way in the eyes of the law. A moment that we aspire to see become reality in every corner of America.
Hillary Clinton had this to say about this incredibly important ruling:
"Hillary Clinton believes that gay and lesbian couples in committed relationships should have the same rights and responsibilities as all Americans and believes that civil unions are the best way to achieve this goal. As President, Hillary Clinton will work to ensure that same sex couples have access to these rights and responsibilities at the federal level. She has said and continues to believe that the issue of marriage should be left to the states."
Barack Obama had this to say:
"Barack Obama has always believed that same-sex couples should enjoy equal rights under the law, and he will continue to fight for civil unions as President. He respects the decision of the California Supreme Court, and continues to believe that states should make their own decisions when it comes to the issue of marriage."
Seventy-five words and fifty-four words, respectively, about a 172 page ruling that time will surely find to be the definitive ruling on marriage equality. This ruling will be cited in every marriage case that will be argued in the future. The thoughtful, well written decision provides the pathway to ending the last vestige of civil discrimination in America. Yet, our Presidential candidates couldn't even muster the effort to acknowledge its importance. Disappointing would be a mild word to describe my feelings about them on this issue.
In 1948, California became the first State in America to overturn a ban on interracial marriage. In its decision on Tuesday, the California Supreme Court cited its own words from that 1948 decision. This New York Times piece, titled 'Same-sex marriage, racial justice find common ground' shows the parallels drawn between the two issues by the Court itself:
Not long into the oral argument before the California Supreme Court in March over whether gay and lesbian couples have a constitutional right to marry, Chief Justice Ronald M. George showed his hand.
Three times he quoted from the court's 1948 decision in Perez v. Sharp that struck down a state ban on interracial marriage, a high point in the history of a prestigious and influential court.
"The essence of the right to marry is freedom to join in marriage with the person of one's choice," Chief Justice George said, quoting Perez.
Without doubt, this is the next step in America's journey to live up to the founding principle that all men are created equal. After the Perez decision in 1948, it took the U.S. Supreme Court until 1967 to overturn the remaining unconstitutional laws banning interracial marriage. Even then, public support for interracial marriage was incredibly low.
Today, America is closely divided on the issue. But we know where this is headed. It is in keeping with the tradition and history of America. After all, our nation has a history of making people equal.
Yet, our candidates fail to speak about it in real and honest terms. "I believe marriage is an issue best left to the States" is a very common position.
This all boils down to one thing. Fear.
Our candidates, our politicians, our political parties all fear the pushback from the Religious Fundamentalists in America. They fear that criticism so much, that they lack the courage to take action that would invite that criticism. By doing so, our candidates make the Fundamentalists stronger and perpetuate a society where gay and lesbian citizens remain at the back of the bus.
Neither candidates' statements are even on their website with other statements and news releases. Again, we are invisible. On the heels of the most significant victory for equal rights for gays and lesbians, we are invisible to the two most visible political figures today.
Rather than bow to non-existent criticism from an extreme political faction in America, our candidates should honor values that we all share; love, acceptance, and understanding. Honoring those values will require embracing the message sent by the California Supreme Court, embodied in this excerpt from the majority opinion:
"...retaining the designation of marriage exclusively for opposite-sex couples and providing only a separate and distinct designation for same-sex couples may well have the effect of perpetuating a more general premise - now emphatically rejected by this state - that gay individuals and same-sex couples are in some respects "second-class citizens" who may, under the law, be treated differently from, and less favorably than, heterosexual individuals or opposite-sex couples. Under these circumstances, we cannot find that retention of the traditional definition of marriage constitutes a compelling state interest. Accordingly, we conclude that to the extent the current California statutory provisions limit marriage to opposite-sex couples, these statutes are unconstitutional."
Lane Hudson is Director of Communications and Strategy for Faith in America, a non-profit seeking to end the misuse of religion to justify discrimination against gays and lesbians. Learn more at www.faithinamerica.com