This Perfect Passage From the Pennsylvania Marriage Equality Decision Is a Must-Read

Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
May 20 2014 3:53 PM

The Most Beautiful Passage in the Pennsylvania Marriage Equality Decision

judgejohnjones
Judge John E. Jones III

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

Last December, I wrote that “by necessity, judicial decrees legalizing same-sex marriage tend to be messy things… [g]iven the issue’s relative novelty.” Five months later, the issue is no longer novel, and federal judges across the country are writing impressively cogent and increasingly eloquent defenses of marriage equality. These judges know this is their shot at a very specific kind of immortality, and they seem to be in subtle competition with each other to write the one marriage equality opinion that history remembers.

In his opinion striking down Pennsylvania’s gay marriage ban, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III may have just taken the cake. Jones, a Republican endorsed by Rick Santorum, walks us lucidly through the granular legal details of equal protection and due process. It’s an impressive analysis, thorough and thoughtful—but the real gut-punch comes in Jones’ peroration, as the judge places his ruling in the broader historical context of civil rights in America:

The issue we resolve today is a divisive one. Some of our citizens are made deeply uncomfortable by the notion of same-sex marriage. However, that same-sex marriage causes discomfort in some does not make its prohibition constitutional. Nor can past tradition trump the bedrock constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection. Were that not so, our would still be a racially segregated nation according to the now rightfully discarded doctrine of “separate but equal.” … In the sixty years since Brown [v. Board of Education] was decided, “separate” has thankfully faded into history, and only “equal” remains. Similarly, in future generations the label same-sex marriage will be abandoned, to be replaced simply by marriage.
Advertisement

Jones then takes clear aim at the animus that enshrined Pennsylvania’s marriage ban into law, in a single sentence destined to be repeated by gay rights advocates and studied by historians of marriage equality decades hence:

We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history.

A better people, indeed. Good riddance to bad rubbish, and welcome to the fold, Pennsylvania. 

Mark Joseph Stern is a writer for Slate. He covers science, the law, and LGBTQ issues.

TODAY IN SLATE

Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

Republicans Like Scott Walker Are Building Campaigns Around Problems That Don’t Exist

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

The Best Way to Organize Your Fridge

The World

Iran and the U.S. Are Allies

They just aren’t ready to admit it yet.

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

Chief Justice John Roberts Says $1,000 Can’t Buy Influence in Congress. Looks Like He’s Wrong.

How Steven Moffat Made the Best Doctor Who Episode in Years

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 16 2014 1:58 PM Democrats Baffled by New Benghazi Whistleblower's Accusations
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 16 2014 1:23 PM Germany Has Asked Google to Reveal Its Search Algorithm, but That's Not Going to Happen
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 15 2014 11:38 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 4  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Listen."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 1:27 PM The Veronica Mars Spinoff Is Just Amusing Enough to Keep Me Watching
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 1:48 PM Why We Need a Federal Robotics Commission
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 16 2014 1:39 PM The Case of the Missing Cerebellum How did a Chinese woman live 24 years missing part of her brain?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.