Marriage Equality Opponents Left With Nothing But Tradition

2013 was not a good year for opponents of marriage equality. Maryland, Delaware, Rhode Island, Illinois, New Mexico, California, New Jersey, Hawaii, and Minnesota were added to the list of states allowing same-sex marriage. The Defense of Marriage Act was struck down by the Supreme Court. And if anything, 2014 is shaping up to move even faster. Earlier this week, a judge in Kentucky ruled that the state must honor same-sex marriages performed in other states. And last night, a federal judge in Virginia struck down the ban on same-sex marriage the state passed in 2006.

The judge stayed her decision until a higher court can rule on the inevitable appeal. But with these cases piling up, it seems obvious that the Supreme Court is going to rule sooner rather than later on the legality of same-sex marriage bans, something they've been trying to avoid until now. And with the continued evolution of American culture and public opinion in favor of equality, the chance that those bans will be declared unconstitutional seems to grow every day.

At this point, advocates of marriage equality can afford to spare a moment of sympathy for their opponents, to say: look, we understand that change can be unsettling. You're worried about the demise of the traditions you accepted as absolute. But as the judge in the Virginia case wrote, "Tradition is revered in the Commonwealth, and often rightly so. However, tradition alone cannot justify denying same-sex couples the right to marry any more than it could justify Virginia's ban on interracial marriage."

Same-sex marriage opponents refer to themselves as advocates of "traditional marriage," but they backed themselves into a corner by assuming we'd all agree that because something is "traditional," it has an inherently superior moral value. "Traditional" means nothing more than "we've been doing it this way for a while." As soon as our values change and a tradition gets discarded, we tend to decide it wasn't traditional in the first place. Polygamy is traditional; it goes back thousands of years, is Bible-approved, and is still practiced in many places. But that doesn't tell us whether it's good or bad for individuals or for society.

So yes, the tradition is changing around you, because the society's values have evolved even when yours haven't, and we get that this makes you upset. But you'll get over it, just as people did every one of the many times that we changed the definition of marriage just in the past hundred years or so. If you don't, this is going to be a difficult year.

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