Protestors Alex Corona (C) and David Milligan (R), partners who say they wish to get married if the Defense of Marriage Act is overturned, rally in support of gay marriage in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, March 27, 2013. Reuters/Jonathan Ernst
In his essay “Message in the Stars,” the American Presbyterian writer and theologian Frederick Buechner conducts a thought experiment. What if God decided to prove—dramatically, irrefutably and publicly—that God does exist by writing across the night sky. Buechner imagines the heavenly author arranging the stars to read—GOD IS—and the subsequent hope, terror, regret, joy and utter astonishment that such a message would bring. He fantasizes that God would write the message in all the different languages of the world, so that on any given night one might go outside, look up and see, in French, Mandarin or Arabic: GOD IS.
He invites us to envision the sense of relief that would come with the utter certainty that God exists. Then he imagines this:
Then the way that I would have it end might be this. I would have a child look up at the sky some night, just a plain, garden-variety child with perhaps a wad of bubble gum in his cheek…. and then I would have the child turn to his father, or maybe, with the crazy courage of childhood, I would have him turn to God himself, and the words that I would have him speak would be words to make the angels gasp. “So what if God exists?” he would say. “What difference does that make?”
I’ve been thinking a lot about this question of “so what, what difference does that make?” in recent months, never more so than this week. As the Supreme Court prepared to hear challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act and to Proposition 8, the substance of their eventual judgment seems less and less relevant. This Court may offer the watershed legal justification for marriage equality, or it may erect one final barrier to this bundle of civil rights for gay couples. But it no longer seems to matter much.
Marriage equality has won. Democrats are flocking to a pro-marriage position in the most rapid case of mass evolution in history. Virginia’s Mark Warner, Missouri’s Claire McCaskill, West Virginia’s Jay Rockefeller, Montana’s Max Baucus and South Dakota’s Tim Johnson are among the more than a dozen legislators who changed their minds and now express support for same-sex marriage. President Obama “evolved” and then so did Bill and Hillary Clinton. Even Republican Rob Portman got on the marriage-equality bandwagon after his son came out to him. And conservatives unprepared to embrace full marriage equality are inching toward civil unions as the new default position.
These elected officials like to tell stories of resetting their inner moral compass after wrestling with ethical dilemmas and discovering compassion for gay friends and relatives. But it is hard to ignore the likely reality that their change of heart has been precipitated by the stunning change in opinion among Americans. Just days before the Court heard oral arguments, Pew reported that 70 percent of Americans born after 1980 support same-sex marriage. And though justice delayed is justice denied, whether the Roberts Court upholds or strikes down these particular provisions seems almost irrelevant given this cultural and political paradigm shift. Marriage equality, the stars seem to be telling us, is just a matter of time.