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The Right Side of History Is Full of Rewrites

Chances are you weren't surprised by yesterday's news that the Supreme Court found the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.

A Pew Research Center poll last month found that 72 percent of Americans think that legal recognition for same-sex marriage is inevitable. That's the percentage of Americans overall—a slight majority of whom (51 percent) are okay with that. Strikingly, the poll found that there's little difference between evangelicals and Americans overall on believing that same-sex marriage is inevitable (70 percent of evangelicals think so), though only 22 percent of evangelicals support same-sex marriage.

The Supreme Court didn't actually say that there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage or bar states from limiting unions to a man and a woman. But there was widespread agreement that the decisions were historic—both an indicator and a catalyst for changing views on sexual ethics, marriage, family, social justice, government powers, and other issues.

In fact, Justice Antonin Scalia said as much in his dissent. "It takes real cheek for today's majority to assure us, as it is going out the door, that a constitutional requirement to give formal recognition to same-sex marriage is not at issue here—when what has preceded that assurance is a lecture on how superior the majority's moral judgment in favor of same-sex marriage is to the Congress's hateful moral judgment against it," he said. "As far as this court is concerned, no one should be fooled; it is just a matter of listening and waiting for the other shoe."

Scalia looked toward the future and complained that the majority opinion unfairly stacked the deck against state bars on same-sex marriage. Meanwhile, that majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, drew a timeline of its own, one of enlightenment illuminating the dark ages:

[M]arriage between a man and a woman no doubt had been thought of by most people as essential to the very definition of that term and to its role and function throughout the history of civilization. That belief, for many who long have held it, became even more urgent, more cherished when challenged. For others, however, came the beginnings of a new perspective, a new insight. … The limitation of lawful marriage to heterosexual couples, which for centuries had been deemed both necessary and fundamental, came to be seen in New York and certain other States as an unjust exclusion.

Slowly at first and then in rapid course, the laws of New York [and the other states] came to acknowledge the urgency of this issue for same-sex couples who wanted to affirm their commitment to one another before their children, their family, their friends, and their community.

The court's storyline continues, with the mean old Congress trying to "demean" same-sex couples and "humiliate tens of thousands of children." And it continues the Supreme Court defending New York's "considered perspective on the historical roots of the institution of marriage and its evolving understanding of the meaning of equality."

That "evolving" understanding, rhetorically speaking, puts yesterday's decisions not as the culmination of "the meaning of equality" but on what same-sex marriage proponents repeatedly, unrelentingly, unmitigatingly, refer to as "the right side of history."

It was used again yesterday, from everyone from Nancy Pelosi to Alecia Keys to the AFL-CIO. The ubiquity of the phrase must certainly be one of the best examples in recent political history of message discipline.

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The Right Side of History Is Full of Rewrites