Altar states

As the California Supreme Court decision outlawing this state’s ban on same-sex marriage settles in, we are being treated to the unmistakable cracking sounds of long-held, icy bigotries giving way to a wellspring of justice.

In New York, the governor has ordered state agencies to recognize marriages of same-sex couples performed elsewhere. In California, polls show growing acceptance of same-sex marriage, most notably among young people. And, perhaps most telling of all, Macy’s this week took out a full-page ad that solicited the business of same-sex couples planning their nuptials. “First comes love. Then comes marriage,” the ad proclaims beneath an image of two wedding rings. “And now it’s a milestone every couple in California can celebrate.”

And why not? Surely the trailing edges of society will soon reflect on the resistance to this phenomenon with chagrin and more than a little embarrassment. It is bracing, after all, to realize how recently much of this nation blanched at interracial marriage, and thrilling to recognize how quickly most of us buried that prejudice, first in law, then in custom.

To those who fret about lawmaking from the bench, the role of justices in striking down anti-miscegenation laws is instructive. Through the 1950s and 1960s, more than a dozen states repealed their bans on interracial marriage, but by June 1967, 16 states still clung to them. Even at that late date, it took the Supreme Court to enforce justice on behalf of a minority. Within a generation, the only ones left to oppose interracial marriage were the yahoos.


Race is not the only sphere that yields to the inexorable press of justice. The same Supreme Court that opened interracial marriage to all had a year earlier commanded that police inform suspects of their rights. The Miranda case was narrowly decided and furiously condemned. And then, as police began to deliver its warnings, Miranda’s edicts inserted themselves in our culture, whereupon they quickly went from catastrophic to commonplace. Soon, the officers in “Dragnet” were droning Miranda’s commands to hapless television crooks. No less than Justice William H. Rehnquist, who once deplored Miranda, came to accept its place in American life. “Miranda,” he wrote in 2000, “has become embedded in routine police practice to the point where the warnings have become part of our national culture.”

We are at the outset of that same process with respect to same-sex marriage. Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, with his acceptance of the California ruling, is helping that along, and Democratic Gov. David Paterson, with his order to New York agencies, has spread its impact. As other businesses follow the lead of Macy’s and acknowledge that marriage -- whatever the sex of the loving adults -- is not just good politics but also good commerce, the battle will be over. Equality has a way of winning.