Politics are usually boring. You can barely ever seem to understand why politicians do this or that at this or that moment. Oftentimes whatever is decided is mind-numbingly boring, amazingly irrelevant to your life (to where you wonder why they get so much money for deciding such nonsense), or it’s just way too complex to understand as a normal human being. And then there is that one story of how gay marriage became legal in the US. One might argue that I hold a natural interest in the topic and yes, indeed, I do. Now, what I like about the historic decision of the Supreme Court isn’t just that it concerns gays. Some people that have talked to me about it, might know that. I’ve always said up until that point: There is no need to get upset about gay marriage not being legal yet. It will become legal. There is no way around it. There is no point in forcing it, if the public isn’t ready yet. It’s supposed to put laws into play as well as diminish discrimination against gays. If the public is against it, there is not much to be gained from having these laws in the first place then.
At that point in time I wasn’t aware where the US was standing on gay marriage in terms of public opinion. I wasn’t too hopeful it was any good, though, but that might have stemmed from having spent most of my time in North Carolina, not a natural hot spot for gay-hugging heterosexuals Either way, when gay marriage became legal nationwide on June 26th 2015, I was, indeed, very very surprised. Positively, of course, though some scepticism remained. Reading through some articles about the decision of the Supreme Court and the history of the whole ordeal, I was eventually fully positively surprised. No more scepticism.
There is no definite way to truthfully claim it, but there is a good deal of truth to the assessment, that public opinion on the matter was the basis of this new law. It wasn’t reading and interpreting the letters of the Constitution over and over and over again (though, of course they did that) and it wasn’t debating on economic grounds, to where a lobby would have such a significant say in the matter that it shapes the judicial consent. It was just a decision on what is right. What is humane. You could say it changed the definition of equal rights. But the definition of equal rights has always been: „Equal rights for everyone“. What has changed is to which parts of our lifes that right extends. Now it extends over the scale of sexual orientation. A few generations from now, our children will look back and say: „How was gay marriage ever illegal? How did a lot of people truly think that gays deserve less rights than straight people?“. And the look on the face will equal the look on the face of children now when you show them a walkman and tell them to put a cassette in there. A look full of disbelief.
Now let me show you what I’m talking about:
What is shown here is simple. It shows the public opinion on the matter of gay marriage (green, red and blue lines) and the amount of US states that made gay marriage legal over the same time span (orange line). What does it tell us? For a long time not much happened on the orange line and then it made a short hop, stayed almost steady and then skyrocketed. At the same time, except for a steep incline in ’05 and ’06 that deflated for a short time, the public opinion supporting gay marriage was on a steady incline since the early 2000’s.
Now there is the question: What came first? The chicken or the egg? Did the incline in support of gay marriage start first and influence the law or did the states allowing gay marriage shape public opinion? I believe it’s the first theory. Why? Because whenever public opinion came close to the 50% mark, the number of states allowing gay marriage skyrocketed. Mind you, the question in the survey was, whether gay couples should have exactly the same rights as heterosexual couples in the matter of marriage. We don’t even have that standard in Germany. And nowadays in the US more than 50% think it should be law over there. And so it became the law.
I mean, I didn’t make this up. I haven’t been the first one to see a connection between public opinion on gay marriage and the law that was put into place on June 26th 2015. „Friday’s decision wasn’t solely or even primarily the work of the lawyers and plaintiffs who brought the case. It was the product of the decades of activism that made the idea of gay marriage seem plausible, desirable, and right.“ (see: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/07/gay-marriage-supreme-court-politics-activism/397052/). To name just one.
Usually at that point in my long monologues a voice from the off asks: So what’s your point, Silvia? Here it goes: Public opinion matters. It matters what you think. It matters what you stand for and if you voice it or not. It matters all the time and makes all the difference. Just don’t ever forget that!