It’s been over a week since the Supreme Court denied appeals from several states that would have stalled same-sex marriage in those places. In many of those states, amendments to the state constitutions had rendered same-sex marriage illegal. But those amendments were struck down as unconstitutional, despite what a majority of voters may have said they wanted. And since the Supreme Court refused to overturn the decision of lower court judges who had struck down those amendments, the lower court decision stands. Same-sex marriages may begin in those states.
This is the way the balance of powers in the United States is supposed to work. It is shockingly common for uneducated voters to claim that the “checks and balances” in the United States government is due to there being two main political parties. In reality, those checks and balances come from the relationships between the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches.
Legislators may enact a law, or voters may amend a state constitution. Local government officials and police are beholden to abide by those new laws. But it is up to judges to determine whether or not those new laws or state amendments are consistent with the United States Constitution.
In the case of gay marriage bans, judges have repeatedly determined that they are unconstitutional. Specifically, in North Carolina, U.S. District Court Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr. struck down that state’s same-sex marriage ban, saying:
“The court determines that North Carolina’s laws prohibiting same-sex marriage are unconstitutional as a matter of law. The issue before this court is neither a political issue nor a moral issue. It is a legal issue and it is clear as a matter of what is now settled law in the Fourth Circuit that North Carolina laws prohibiting same sex marriage, refusing to recognize same sex marriages originating elsewhere, and/or threatening to penalize those who would solemnize such marriages, are unconstitutional.”
And that is why evangelist Franklin Graham is angry. Graham, son of famous evangelist Billy Graham, lives in North Carolina. In North Carolina this week, the Supreme Court wave-off resulted in a directive to all magistrates to perform all lawfully-requested same-sex marriages or face suspension or dismissal from their jobs.
“It’s sad when a judge is able to overrule the will of the people,” Graham said on Monday. “This is a democracy, and the people spoke, and we’re seeing that activist judges across the country are overturning the will of the people. We saw that in California. We’re now seeing it here in North Carolina now. I don’t know what will take place.”
But not all persons of faith see it that way.
Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, says that marriage equality for gay people is just one piece in a larger battle for equality for all people.
“We celebrate knowing that this shameful chapter in North Carolina’s history has passed,” said the Reverend. “At the same time we know that you can still be fired simply for being gay in North Carolina. Protection from discrimination in the workplace is the next step in our push for full equality.”