So here’s the thing: the vote tomorrow in the Minnesota house on HB 1054 (the Marriage Equality bill) matters to my friends, because it affects them and their relationships personally. It matters to the state, because it affects how it will treat these couples. It matters to me, because (insert nicer way of saying “fuck the haters” here). But it also matters to the country, because it’s going to have a significant psychological impact on the mental state of the Supreme Court Justices as they weigh the Prop 8 and DOMA cases.
Both Justices Kennedy and Ginsburg have expressed reservations in both oral arguments for these cases as well as interviews (see the March 11th New Yorker) about pushing society too fast: large-scale social change shouldn’t come from the courts. We can disagree on that perspective (I do): especially so when the courts are addressing civil rights injustices that shouldn’t even have to take into consideration whether the ruling is “popular” enough yet. But it’s a concern they have raised, and one they have to be mulling.
But if the change is already observed happening from the bottom up, then this reservation evaporates. I don’t know what the magical number of states is to convince Justices Kennedy and Ginsburg that change is already happening; but I do know that 2 is better than 1, and that 12 is better than 11 (plus the District of Columbia, of course).
So this may very well have a significant domino effect, and all within this year, within a period of months.
We know that change is happening, we’ve felt it happen in Minnesota over the past year. Hell, we MADE it happen, you and I, with our phone calls and our conversations and our VOTES. But we’ve also seen pushback and defeats in the last 12 months, in other states and in other court cases, all of which could make a conservative (in the traditional, non-political sense) judge rather wary of leading the charge for action.
So the question is: what happens if the number is 12, Justices Kennedy and Ginsburg? Is 12 enough to signal that you are no longer leading social change, but actually trying to catch up instead? 12 states is a quarter of the country, and means over 55 million citizens living in states where same-sex marriage is legal. We decide national elections by tiny fractions of those numbers.
Sandra Day O’Connor has recently and very publicly expressed regret at taking on Bush v. Gore in the 2000 elections. I hope that Ginsburg and Kennedy, in 12 years as they look back on the year 2013, don’t have to express similar regrets about incorrect decisions. We’ve come so far in just the past 12 months: think of how much further ahead we will be in 12 years, and how misguided a decision to delay social justice today will look then.
A loss tomorrow does not doom the Prop 8 and DOMA cases for our side. It doesn’t even cause a major dent in the reality of marriage equality for Minnesota, in the long run. Hell, it’s just a delay either way.
But 12 looks like a really good number to me right now. What number looks good to you?