What the Chief Justice Got Right about Marriage Equality

On Friday, June 26, our free society became more equal. The Obergefell v. Hodges case marked the high point of an empowered LGBTQ community’s fight toward full equality. In a 5-4 split Supreme Court decision, love became the law of the land and gay couples’ right to marry was affirmed after more than 40 years of agitation.  But in a rather vociferous dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Roberts maintained that gay couples’ right to marry was essentially a “policy issue” to be considered on a state-by-state basis through the democratic process, and not to be determined by the federal courts.  

By now we should all be familiar with the conservative impulse to revert back to state authority on pressing federal questions. The difference this time, however, is that the position may actually have some credence to it. 

Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion underscores the limits of the judiciary and sheds light on an oft-neglected side of the push for the full equality of the LGBTQ community: the importance state and local legislatures. Many obstacles need to be overcome before full marriage equality—and equality, for that matter—can even come close to being realized. Although somewhat comprehensive federal legislation to protect the LGBTQ community exists, it is not enough. Even in the wake of the Obergefell decision that applies to the nation as a whole, the truth is that same-sex couples will receive disparate treatment and stiff resistance when applying for marriage licenses across the states. In the same vein, there is still widespread violence against members of the LGBTQ community, as well as discrimination in housing, in the workplace, and in business in cities all over the nation. Furthermore, in those places where some state and municipal protections harmful practices in relation to LGBTQ members do exist, many are abysmal and are inadequately enforced

Against this backdrop we see that Friday’s monumental decision was just the tip of the iceberg in bringing down barriers to full equality and inclusion for the LGBTQ community. 

So it turns out Chief Justice Roberts is correct after all. The extent of the protections the LGBTQ community seeks are beyond the purview of the court—the work lies in the assemblies, senates, and city councils in our states.

The question remains: who can we count on to do the job?

Young progressives are the answer.

Having grown up in a generation more tolerant than previous ones, young progressives are already predisposed to understanding that everyone has a right to live as they choose. More important, young progressives, unlike older generations, see LGBTQ rights issues as they should be seen—as human rights issues that concern the liberty and welfare of a community. These are the base experiences and viewpoints we need in our state and local legislatures to begin to promote equality for all.

While young progressives have been the backbone of national movements for change, they have not themselves been able to successfully become candidates for office to help usher in that change. There are thousands of young, talented progressives across the country who are ready to tackle injustice head on, but simply are unable. Not due to a lack of charisma, leadership ability, or vision—but to a lack of money and institutional support. Many young people running for office come up against incumbents and candidates of the establishment (i.e. the unjust status quo) who tend to have vast resources at their disposal. This puts winning an election for many young progressives beyond reach.

Luckily, there’s LaunchProgress.

LaunchProgress is an organization that works to elect young progressive leaders from diverse backgrounds into state and local office by providing them with the resources they need to win. We have already helped elect a number of young progressives such as Christie Bryant in Ohio; Cecil Brockman in North Carolina; Stephanie Chang, Kristy Pagan, and Jon Hoadley in Michigan. Furthermore, we have just endorsed Andrew Barnill in North Carolina, Josh Cartee in Ohio, and Brian Stone in Michigan. These are young leaders who will stand up for the LGBTQ community and for the progressive values that so desperately need to be injected into our legislatures nationwide.

The Obergefell v. Hodges was a victory for justice, but there is still have a lot of ground to cover to ensure that certain states and cities keep pace with changing attitudes and overall progress. And for that, we need young progressive lawmakers in our state and local legislatures across the country to help move us forward with the unequivocal force of policy. Chief Justice Roberts hit the nail right on the head.

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