Justice Kennedy & a Portland Parade

I do not follow the decisions of the Supreme Court at all closely, but occasionally a decision arrives of such moment that one cannot help but take note. Such was the case with the decision delivered June 26 requiring states to recognize gay marriages. 131121_Juris_Kennedy.jpg.CROP.promo-mediumlargeProhibitions in place in 13 states were struck down.

Justice Kennedy wrote for the majority of the Court. Here are his eloquent and moving final words:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. . . . [M]arriage embodies a love that may endure even past death.  [The men and women who have petitioned the court respect marriage] “so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilizations oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

I’ll return to Justice’s Kennedy’s quiet eloquence, but first let me remark on a parade here in Portland, Maine whose tone seemed to complement, even predict, the Court’s decision. I found it every bit as moving as Kennedy’s words.

The Gay Pride parade was on Saturday before the Court’s Friday announcement. I’ve attended Pride parades in San Francisco and elsewhere. This one was different. Gays marched, as one would expect. More impressive, these marchers — by their dress, diversity_crowd_bannerbanners, age, and demeanor — represented a cross-section of mainstream society: businesses, from banks to health clubs to repair shops to restaurants; churches across a spectrum of denominations; parents, universities, public school teachers, retirement homes and their residents – the list could go on.

A celebration of joyous inclusion.

This parade was not a protest.  It was non-sectarian and not militant. Like a Fourth of July parade, it didn’t feature a marginalized group or its political agenda. It was not a crowd pressing for recognition, not an aggrieved, marginalized, or silenced enclave, bent on breaking out to trouble the conscience of the majority, or strike fear in its heart.

Of course it was organized, but it had the feel of a spontaneous assembly culled from a wide swath of the mainstream – from banks to their employees, to churches to nursing homes to hospitals to colleges and elementary schools – all taking street time and space to celebrate unity, comity, happy fellow-feeling. Not a disapproving scowl was in sight. This was not protest of unjust exclusion but celebration of joyous inclusion.

blog_march_lineIt was as if a formerly besieged sub-set of society were no longer besieged. Here they dared in the most confident, contented, and happy way to announce victory. Could these lines after lines dare to celebrate the Court’s decision before the fact?

Only a few days later Justice Kennedy read his decision with warmth and quiet eloquence. Rather than comment I’ll have it speak again — slightly abridged.

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. . . . [Those who 13100_solitude_440x260petition the court value marriage] so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilizations oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

I find these words a fitting benediction to the expression of solidarity displayed here in Maine just a few days earlier.

—Ed Mooney, Zeteo Contributor

Credits: Images are from google-images; parade-watchers seem to make better subjects for my theme than paraders.



  1. Marriage is a “keystone of our social order.” That was the Justice Kennedy phrase that most struck me. Of course he was seeking to rationalize a decision that the times were demanding, but why this particular rationalization? Why not propose that we are a diverse nation and proud of it? We support all kinds of different interactions, unions and disunions of all kinds of different people? Why this incorporation of LGBT Americans in the stone arch of marriage?
    We have indeed come a long ways from when LGBT lifestyles seemed to threaten the social order and sacred traditions and when, alternatively, gay lifestyles appealed as well to straight people eager to escape the stodginess and conventionality of mainstream American life. Now the stately edifice of the USA has been made larger, more inclusive, and, most interestingly, the group of Americans now being given more of a place inside the edifice are also being asked to serve as one of its pillars. They are being asked to help hold up the social order with its basis in marriage. And this, we might say, during a time when it may seem that–beseiged by economic demands and new technologies–marriages and families are coming apart at the seams.


  2. Ed Mooney

    A friend mentioned that he resisted the new inclusion into the mainstream — exclusion heightened his sense of gay identity. He was overall happy with the lowering of hostility but noticed a cost, too. I think “marriage” has a sonorous ring of “happy-togetherness” that Kennedy exploits. If he wrote celebrating “diversity” that sonority would be lost. Why is it so hard to find a word that would capture both diversity and close togetherness?


  3. Steve Webb

    One line in the majority opinion that strongly effected me is this: “And their immutable nature dictates that same-sex marriage is their only real path to this profound commitment.” (pg. 4) Since the 19th-century the appeal to immutability has been the default argument in gay apologetics. It has had a remarkably robust life. Its most common appearance, nowadays, is the simple and often repeated assertion “Gays are born that way,” and it inevitably elicits the vigorous counter-assertion, usually from the religious right, “No, homosexuality is a choice.” And so it has gone, round and round, for long time now. I for one have had my fill of it, and I was taken aback to see it rearing its head again, however briefly, in Kennedy’s epochal opinion. It has the unsettling effect of reifying same-sex preference in a particularly rigid, almost racial way, and it entirely misrepresents the facts of human sexual diversity.

    Slogans aside, the developed form of the argument, what actually lies behind the phrase ‘immutable nature,’ goes something like this. Homosexuality, the underlying disposition or desire that leads to same-sex conduct, is neither chosen nor changeable. Since no one can reasonably be held accountable for an involuntary and unalterable characteristic of their nature, gay people can’t be blamed for being gay. Why, then, should they be blamed for the conduct that expresses their fixed nature? You will note that the argument typically ends in a question and not a conclusion. I myself have always heard it as little more than an ad misericordiam bleat. But never mind the logic. Here I want only to observe that even granting the argument’s superficial plausibility it is deeply flawed as to its underlying meaning.

    What the argument does in effect is to reduce homosexuality to an extenuating condition, and therefore it asserts the very thing that today’s gays and their friends want most to deny — namely, that without the excuse of an immutable nature, the erotic love in question must always be deemed suspect in light of traditional sexual mores. Anyone capable of “normal” sexual relations, despite any incidental same-sex desire he or she my experience in the course of their life, is obligated, or at least strongly encouraged, to adopt a heterosexual lifestyle. Only the narrowly defined class of people genuinely incapable of heterosexual relationships might be tolerated for deviating from the regnant norms. Homosexuality, on this reasoning, is an incapacity and deficiency, and the behavior arising from it should therefore be considered as, at best, an exception to the rule. This is how the immutability argument has always worked historically, and without these background assumptions, it makes no sense as an argument in favor gay equality and dignity.

    Those who continue to use the argument don’t seem to appreciate how very retro it is, not to say demeaning. Indeed, constantly repeating that gays are “born that way” is, ironically, an entirely gratuitous concession to those who accuse gays of making a culpable choice. It is beyond me why anyone would want to continue encouraging these accusers by offering knee-jerk denials of their accusations, denials that will only be rebuffed with renewed accusations. Acceptable or normal behavior never requires an excuse, and to offer one where none is needed is a tacit if unwitting admission that the behavior in question is at least problematic. That, it seems to me, is the wrong way to go, even if during the blackest days of gay oppression it was a necessary defense against literal prosecution. The ceaseless rant of the religious right — “It’s a choice!” — today deserves only one response: “Damn right it is, and it’s mine to make.” My coefficient of same-sex desire, whatever it may be — I’ve never had it tested — has nothing to do with the righteousness of my love. I owe no one an explanation for it.

    This is why I’m disappointed that Justice Kennedy inserted that old immutability argument into his opinion. It clearly has no place there, or in his career-long defense of human dignity.


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