Earlier this week some took Justice Clarence Thomas’s comments around the freedom to marry in Alabama as a “clarion call” announcing that the battle is “over” — that we’ve won, and can all switch from doing the work to making wedding plans.
That would be a tragic mistake. Winning, yes. Won, no. It’s way too early to drench the coach with Gatorade. There is still time left on the clock.
SCOTUSblog's Lyle Denniston, one of the nation's preeminent Supreme Court watchers, sounded a note of caution on Twitter a day after those premature proclamations of victory. “Lot of jumping gun on [Supreme Court] mind made up on same-sex marriage,” he wrote. “Issue not decided and will be big deal [because of] nationwide impact.”
Similarly, Paul Smith, who successfully argued before the Supreme Court in 2003 to strike down antisodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas, noted that "nothing this important is a done deal until the Court rules."
Both the lawyers and plaintiffs and their families in the cases would agree, I’m sure, that the work isn’t over, as would the millions of same-sex couples living in the 13 states that still discriminate — loving families who are still denied the dignity of marriage. For them — and therefore for us — the fight continues.
In fact, many of us — legal and advocacy groups as well as so many same-sex couples and our allies — are doing a ton of work on the frontlines and behind the scenes around the four historic cases the Supreme Court is reviewing. Freedom to Marry, for example, is working with families and local organizations to elevate their voices and underscore the urgency of bringing the freedom to marry to the states still discriminating, while running ads and driving the national narrative that America is ready; that no one should be left out. Our partners at the ACLU, GLAD, Lambda Legal, and NCLR, along with the valiant local attorneys leading these cases, are banging away at briefs and assembling the powerful collective presentation that will go before the justices.
Tea-leaf reading is a dangerous business. Such speculation, especially where the Supreme Court is concerned, is too often wrong. And the stakes are far too high to take a victory lap now based on a dissent from the denial of a stay. Only the nine justices likely know where the marriage votes are. And those votes have not yet been cast.
Even more, what we’ve been doing has been working. Why would we stop doing it before we have won?
I hope, and believe, that we are in the fourth quarter, on the brink of the triumph we have worked for, having built the needed critical mass of support and critical mass of states to create the climate for victory. That is the strategy President Obama recently credited when he expressed his hope that national resolution is within reach. Notwithstanding the temporary bumps created by one lawless official down in Alabama, all has gone smoothly in the 37 states where gay couples can marry. That’s two-thirds of the country where the dog didn’t bark, despite dire warnings of Western civilization collapsing if gay people got marriage licenses. Fifty-nine percent of the public, including a majority of Republicans under 45, now support the freedom to marry.
We who are committed to winning the freedom to marry nationwide — leaving no state and no family behind — will not stop now, but will continue to do everything possible between now and when a decision from the court is expected in June to show that all of America – from the Deep South to the Heartland, Republicans as well as Democrats — is ready for the freedom to marry.
The dictionary defines “clarion call” not as premature or presumptuous self-congratulatory trumpeting, but, rather, “a direct public request for people to take action.”
The plaintiffs, the lawyers, Freedom to Marry, and Americans across the country working for nationwide victory are counting on all of us to keep telling our stories, writing letters to the editor, enlisting support, reassuring the uncertain, persuading the not yet reached, defeating antigay bills, engaging our neighbors, and otherwise continuing to create the climate for victory. Some of us are even willing to learn to use sports metaphors.
It is the Supreme Court that will make the ultimate decision of when it’s time to go home. Until we have brought it home, let’s leave it all on the field and keep doing the work that is winning, until winning has in fact, become won.
EVAN WOLFSON is founder and president of Freedom to Marry, the campaign to win marriage nationwide.