Brooklyn Law School Professor Bill Araiza on the first anniversary of the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision
June 26 marked the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, recognizing the constitutional rights of same-sex couples to wed. “Anniversary” is truly the apt description of that milestone. Traditionalists tell us that the first anniversary calls for gifts of paper. That too is apt: after Obergefell, the country witnessed joyous same-sex couples brandishing their “paper” — the marriage certificates so many of them had waited years, or even decades, to obtain.
But “paper” is apt for another, sadder reason: as the only location for many rights. Often, rights exist only “on paper”: formally recognized but effectively denied. For many LGBT people, the right to same-sex marriage is frustrated, or at least not fully vindicated, because of legal or cultural opposition to recognizing the fully equal status of same-sex couples and LGBT people individually. We see this not only with regard to bureaucrats’ refusals to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but also the continued frustration of some couples’ attempts to create families and the continued existence of employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. We see it even more starkly in the horror of Orlando, where the very right to live and congregate openly triggered a bloodthirsty response that stunned the nation.
So, on this anniversary we celebrate. We give and receive paper. But we also recognize the paper-like fragility of the rights our fellow Americans have won, and the need to continue working to solidify them.
William D. Araiza is vice dean and professor of law at Brooklyn Law School. He is a scholar of constitutional law. His most recent book, “Enforcing Equal Protection: Congressional Power, Judicial Doctrine, and Constitutional Law,” was published by NYU Press in December 2015.
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