At 10 a.m. on Wednesday, June 26, 2013, texts, emails, tweets, and Facebook messages were alive with activity about the Supreme Court's decisions striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act's Section 3 (the federal marriage definition that excludes homosexual marriages) and effectively leaving in place a federal court decision setting aside California's Proposition 8, which barred same-sex marriages.
Same-sex couples married here in Connecticut, after the state Supreme Court's Kerrigan ruling, can now reap benefits accorded to other married couples under federal law. Same-sex marriage has returned to California. For many affected directly by the decisions or for those deeply invested in the issue of equal rights for gays and lesbians the euphoria over the weekend was palpable. And, recent polls show that a majority of the public agree with the Supreme Court's decisions on Proposition 8 and DOMA, or at least their effect.
Some recent polls and studies indicate that distrust of the Supreme Court is increasing, and its influence abroad is waning. The Court has recently disappointed many with recent decisions, arguably giving generic drug manufacturers a free pass for dangerous, mislabeled drugs; significantly reducing the power of advocates to sue for human rights abuses abroad in federal court via the Alien Tort Statute; and taking a controversial backwards step on the enforcement of equal voting rights.
Yet, the DOMA and Proposition 8 rulings show that the Court is still a place that rights' defenders rally around and for good reason, because occasionally they win in a big way. And for all of the rhetoric about whether the Court acts in an activist or anti-democratic fashion, from argument to decision, the cases before the Court seem to engage many in the process of government, from the numerous groups who submit well-considered amicus briefs, to those outside on the steps with signs and t-shirts, to those around the country who follow the Court's rulings in the mass media with great interest. Indeed, much about the Supreme Court's mystique and processes seem to fascinate and attract the public.
So, in a time of many depressing decisions by the Supreme Court — and if we looked back at other eras we would see a number of mistakes and missteps in those times too — June 26's gay marriage decisions remind us of how powerfully symbolic its rulings can be. Could the court have gone further for gay rights? Yes. Will many be upset by its decisions? Yes. But it is undeniable that these were watershed, landmark cases, and that fact should give individuals more faith in what the Court can do.•