In case you needed any more reasons to love Supreme Court justice Ruth Ginsburg, here you go…
On Tuesday, April 28th, 2015, the Supreme Court heard arguments on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage in the historic Obergefell v. Hodges case.
Ruth Ginsburg, not surprisingly, stole the show, concisely and matter-of-factly devastating the opposition.
Ginsburg responded to the oft-cited rhetoric that presents “millenia” of traditional, heterosexual marriage as the main argument against marriage equality:
“[Same-sex couples] wouldn’t be asking for this relief if the law of marriage was what it was a millennium ago. I mean, it wasn’t possible. Same-sex unions would not have opted into the pattern of marriage, which was a relationship, a dominant and a subordinate relationship. Yes, it was marriage between a man and a woman, but the man decided where the couple would be domiciled; it was her obligation to follow him.
There was a change in the institution of marriage to make it egalitarian when it wasn’t egalitarian. And same-sex unions wouldn’t—wouldn’t fit into what marriage was once.”
On the same subject, she also said:
“Marriage was a relationship of a dominant male to a subordinate female. That ended as a result of this court’s decision in 1982 when Louisiana’s Head and Master Rule was struck down… Would that be a choice that state should [still] be allowed to have? To cling to marriage the way it once was?”
Attorney John Bursch simply replied, “No,” before the hearing went on.
To briefly explain Ginsburg’s point, as I understand it, same-sex marriage would have been fundamentally incompatible with the “traditional” marriage structure in which one woman was explicitly made subordinate to one man (that “ideal” structure to which opponents of same-sex marriage so desperately cling to). Without one man and one woman, the inherent inequality of this great, millenia-old tradition could not hold traction. And so, until that structure shifted, with the 1982 ruling alluded to, there would have been no logical place for same sex couples in these unions.
Ginsburg again succinctly took down Bursch when he tried to argue that marriage existed exclusively for the purpose of procreation. She replied:
“Suppose a couple, 70-year-old couple, comes in and they want to get married? You don’t have to ask them any questions. You know they are not going to have any children.”
Finally, Ginsburg’s arguments seem to have been effective, even getting through to chief justice Roberts. Wrapping up, she told Bursch:
“All of the incentives, all of the benefits that marriage affords would still be available. So you’re not taking away anything from heterosexual couples. They would have the very same incentive to marry, all the benefits that come with marriage that they do now.”
Now here is a political figure I like—someone dedicated to equal rights who genuinely cares about justice.
We will have to wait until June to know the outcome of the hearing. In the meantime, here is more from Ginsburg on marriage equality and women’s rights:
More great insight into this topic:
Author: Toby Israel
Editor: Katarina Tavčar
Photo: Wikipedia Commons