LESS THAN a year ago, federal judges across the country began repudiating bans on same-sex marriage. Now, as more and more of these discriminatory laws fall, news that yet another state has been added to the list has become almost mundane. In this case, boredom should be celebrated.
As of this week, you can add Oregon and Pennsylvania to the tally of states where judges have struck down restrictions on same-sex marriage. Because the governors of both states declined to appeal the rulings, they became the 18th and 19th states to see same-sex marriage legalized without the threat of continuing litigation. In several other states, appeals continue.
Every step toward equality deserves commemoration, and the effort and sacrifice of gay and lesbian Americans who have struggled in the face of intolerance must not be diminished. Yet we have been struck by the relative lack of commotion, even in some very conservative states, surrounding this judicial action. It would be a victory in and of itself — in some ways, more significant than a district court ruling here or there — if American society proved itself ready to stop treating same-sex marriage as unusual, instead regarding it as an everyday practice that requires no special scrutiny. Same-sex marriage is becoming normal, and that is as it should be.
Still, there is no excuse for complacency. Though a 2013 Supreme Court ruling set the precedent that lower courts have used to legalize same-sex marriage over the past year, the justices were extremely careful to avoid a sweeping ruling. The lower courts have been taking the justices’ limited language and filling in the presumed implication — that the Constitution cannot tolerate bans on same-sex marriage. But many commentators have pointed out that there may not be five votes to support that interpretation if and when the issue returns to the Supreme Court. Though there is a strong chance the court will remain on the right side of history, a negative ruling from the justices would likely dash the hopes of same-sex couples in those states where the legal battle is still active.
There is also the fact that anti-gay sentiment was woven tightly into the moral fabric of a previous time, and it will take more time for tolerance of same-sex marriage to become a consensus rather than just a majority stance. According to a new Gallup survey, 42 percent of Americans still believe that same-sex marriages should not be valid.
No one should presume that every person in that 42 percent is irretrievably opposed. Many will change their minds, as President Obama did only two years ago, as judges, advocates and, most important, all the rest of us push same-sex marriage into the realm of the unexceptional.