So there’s good news and there’s bad news. The good news is that anybody can marry anybody in a lot of places now, regardless of his and/or her abdominal plumbing, should the anybodies choose to do so for whatever reason.
Many people I know are very happy about this for very sound and concrete reasons: the love of his life is now covered by his insurance, for example; the love of her life can now live with her in the US, and need not fear deportation. These are not small matters. Those who are happy about it, I’m happy for them.
The bad news is that it’s awful when anything good comes out of the courts. It encourages delusion on the subject. People need to get it through their heads that the courts are fundamentally a reactionary institution, and judicial review of legislative enactments is grossly undemocratic.
Fortunately good things from the courts are rare, and the Supreme Court amply confirmed the characterization above, in every other decision it recently handed down. The most gross and (to many friends of mine) the most shocking was its green-light to the states to disenfranchise black folks.
Which is, to be sure, pretty shameless. But it’s surprising how selective people are in their indignation on this subject. Mass disenfranchisement has been a routine and ongoing process for years. The Original Sin, of course, is the exclusion of non-citizens, but nobody much seems to be bothered by that; more recently, the exclusion of convicted (or rather, plea-bargained) felons is equally uncontroversial. But in a country which routinely imprisons a far larger proportion of its people than any other, and imprisons black folks much more often than white ones, the felon clause disenfranchises a lot more black folks than Federal oversight keeps on the rolls.
Of course, since I think voting is a hollow charade anyway, I can’t get too worked up about disenfranchisement.
You might argue that disenfranchisement is one of the reasons why voting is useless. Perhaps you’d have a point. I really wonder, though, whether access to the ballot in itself really did anything substantial to better the lives of black people; one would like to see that case made. Certainly the pathetic, toothless, sellout Congressional Black Caucus doesn’t constitute much of an advertisement for the empowerment of black voters.
Other legal provisions, e.g. about discrimination in employment, certainly made a difference, though not as big a difference as one would like — the stats are still pretty dismal. But voting? I have me doubts.
Oddly enough, one of the few kinds of voting for which I have any use at all is the ballot initiative, much loathed by liberal policy wonks for the mischief it allows the public to commit against the orderly processes of technocratic administration and institutional aggrandizement. So there is a certain sour irony in the fact that gay marriage in California is entirely and purely a matter of government by court, against the clearly expressed will of the state’s benighted public.
This poses — or ought to pose — a question for liberals: do you want democracy, or do you want certain policy outcomes dear to your heart? You’re unlikely to get both.