Today is the 46th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that declared unconstitutional any ban on interracial marriage. More than four decades after the historic and aptly named Loving decision, the U.S. Supreme Court is once again poised to rule in a case that could put an end to discriminatory bans prohibiting marriage, this time for gay and lesbian couples.
This month, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule in a decision in Hollingsworth v. Perry, a case brought by two California couples challenging the constitutionality of the state’s ban on same sex marriages, commonly called Prop 8. Attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies — a Republican and Democrat best known for battling each other before the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore — have teamed up and taken the Perry case beyond California.
Olson and Boies argued before the justices that the Supreme Court has the obligation under the Constitution to strike down not just Prop 8, but all state laws banning marriage equality for gay and lesbian Americans. After all, they say, this is precisely how the court ruled in Loving — and 13 other cases dating back to 1888 in which a majority of the justices stood up to protect the fundamental right of every American to marry the person he or she loves.
A broad ruling in the Perry case this month would be a historic step forward in affirming that gay Americans are entitled to the same rights and freedoms as everyone else. Although I firmly believe public opinion is irrelevant to the court’s responsibility to ensure equality under the law, our nation is clearly ready to embrace marriage equality.
When the Supreme Court struck down interracial marriage bans in 1967, a Gallup poll found that only 20% of Americans approved of such marriages. But the court fulfilled its duty to protect individual rights without regard to what was popular.
Today, we have already have evolved much further on marriage equality. A growing bipartisan majority of voters — 58% — support marriage rights for same-sex couples.
When Richard Loving told his lawyer to “tell the court I love my wife,” he could not have known that his words would still be applicable 46 years later in the very same courtroom. There is never a wrong time to stand up for justice and equality, but the time has never been more right to stand up for gay rights than in the Perry case.
As the Supreme Court weighs equality for gay and lesbian couples, the anniversary of Loving provides a timely reminder of a new legacy they could write for the history books.