Does the Supreme Court matter on same-sex marriage?

By Peter Fenn – 03/27/13 10:44 AM ET

This week, there is a lot of focus on, and exposure for, the Supreme Court on same-sex marriage, but will it really matter?

Both sides in this debate want an affirmation from the court, but let’s face it folks, the train has not only left the station on same-sex marriage and gay and lesbian rights, it is roaring down the tracks.

Those who believe that we can turn the clock back 50 years to the era of homo-phobic speech and people in the closet to hide their sexuality are smoking something awfully strong. Public attitudes have changed so dramatically and so completely over less than a decade that we have entered a whole new era.

When my cousin, Nancy Garden, wrote her book Annie on My Mind in 1982, things were quite different. It was burned. And some in the Olathe School District in Kansas tried to remove it from their shelves. They lost in court, after spending $160,000 of taxpayer’s money. Let’s face it, a book about two teenage girls falling in love wasn’t the “Wizard of Oz.” But we aren’t in Kansas any more; heck, Kansas isn’t in Kansas any more!The book has never been out of print and gets five stars on Amazon. The School Library Journal included it in its list of the 100 most influential books of the 20th century. The American Library Association listed it as “The Best of the Best Books for Young Adults.”

We have seen a remarkable transformation of attitudes in America since Nancy wrote her book. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has come around on gay marriage because of his son. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) just changed her position this week. And Dick Cheney has voiced support, for heaven’s sake.

In 1996, when the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)was passed overwhelmingly in both Houses of Congress (85-14 in the Senate and 342-67 in the House) and signed in the middle of the night by Bill Clinton, only 25 percent of Americans supported gay marriage.

The latest Washington Post poll in mid-March showed that by 58 percent to 36 percent American now support same-sex marriage. A CNN poll this week indicated that 57 percent has a family member or close friend who is gay or lesbian.

Young people between 18-29 support same sex marriage by an astounding 81 percent. The only demographic age group to oppose it are those over 65, and they still are 44 percent in favor.

And, as the Court hears arguments on California’s Proposition 8, we can watch the attitudes shift. In 2008, polls showed the opponents winning in California 50 percent to 44 percent. By 2012 that number had moved to 54 percent to 40 percent for the proponents, a 20-point switch.

The train has, indeed, left the station. Few fundamental social issues have seen such a rapid turnaround. Think how long it took women to get the right to vote or blacks to even begin to achieve a semblance of civil rights.

So whatever happens with the Supreme Court — and hopefully, they will at least overturn DOMA — there is no refuting that the decision on who you are and whom you love is settled. What a victory for the human spirit.

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