Those who were waiting Monday for the U.S. Supreme Court to say whether it would decide one of the gay-marriage cases it has under consideration were disappointed by the silence. The court has been asked to rule both on Proposition 8, the ballot initiative that banned gay marriage in California, and the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which bans benefits for same-sex couples. If the justices don’t make an announcement after their next closed-door session on Friday, gay marriage may not be on the court’s docket this year.
That’s one more reason for state legislators not to put off voting on their gay marriage proposal. Lawmakers have already approved the measure once. If it passes one more time, it will go to voters in a referendum, and they will decide whether to put the state’s ban on gay marriage in the state constitution or leave it as a mere state law.
Possible Supreme Court action has been one of the reasons opponents of the ban gave for delay. Why bother to put something in the constitution if there is a chance the Supreme Court will rule gay marriage bans unconstitutional? Given the court’s current makeup and recent rulings, it’s anybody’s guess whether the U.S. Constitution’s full-faith-and-credit clause would be invoked to make states honor each other’s gay marriages the way they now honor traditional ones.
Actually, that never was a very good argument in the first place. Even if the measure goes to a voter referendum, that balloting wouldn’t take place until 2014. If the court does approve gay marriage in some fashion in 2013, the vote could simply be canceled – no harm, no foul.
The best argument against the measure is that it attempts to make more permanent something that is now very fluid. It’s much harder to change something in the constitution than it is to rescind a state law, and there is a growing acceptance of same-sex marriage in this country. Three states just approved it in voter referendums, and new polling suggests that for the first time a majority of Americans has no problem with gay unions. It’s not that high in Indiana, but approval is still higher than it once was.
But that’s what a referendum is all about, isn’t it? If the General Assembly approves the measure again, then opponents and proponents alike can make their strongest cases to the voters who will make the ultimate decision. Whether or not you like the proposed outcome, the consulting-the-public process is admirable. And it sure beats imposition of agenda by the courts.