Court keeps its own counsel

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Sometimes remaining silent makes a powerful statement.
That’s what many are reading into the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision this week on same-sex marriage. Lower federal courts had struck down bans on same-sex marriage in five states — Wisconsin, Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah and Virginia — and their rulings were appealed. By refusing to hear those appeals, the Supreme Court allowed the lower court decisions to stand. The states’ same-sex bans remain struck down, and a similar ban in North Carolina could be headed for the ash heap of history.
How could a court go against a ban supported by 61 percent of North Carolina voters? Simple. Equality and fairness are seldom issues of majority rule. The majority does not always treat the minority fairly. It’s the job of our courts to ensure constitutional rights are protected for all. The religious aspects of the marriage issue may continue to be debated in various faiths and denominations — and many churches are struggling with that. But the courts look at it as a legal issue, and several courts have found no constitutional grounds for treating same-sex couples differently.
The Supreme Court may be done with this issue for now, but the national debate will continue. The justices could take up a future appeal regarding same-sex marriage; and pundits speculated Tuesday that the court is waiting for the right case, whatever that might be. Meanwhile, politicians will keep this on their agenda as a hot-button issue. Gov. Pat McCrory released a statement Monday saying he disagreed with the court’s decision. Leaders of the N.C. General Assembly, Sen. Phil Berger and Rep. Thom Tillis (candidate for U.S. Senate) have vowed to “formally defend” the state’s ban and hire private counsel to do so.
But state Attorney General Roy Cooper, a probable gubernatorial candidate in 2016, has said he will no longer defend the N.C. ban since, in his words, “there are really no arguments left to be made.”
While the constitutionality of banning same-sex marriage can’t be decided by majority rule, it’s worth noting that public attitudes on the subject have been changing rapidly. To an increasing number of Americans, the only “hot-button” aspect of same-sex marriage is the unfairness of the ban. Several local same-sex couples have wed in states that recognize that right, and Tuesday two of them went to the Rowan County Register of Deeds Office to have their marriages recorded. “Our marriage validated us as a couple, as people in this community,” said Tamara Sheffield, who has been with Maryja Mee nearly 25 years. By rejecting the states’ appeals, the Supreme Court gave same-sex couples validation, too. The court was silent, and that said a lot.