With all the excitement of winning marriage equality in New York this summer and the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell last month, a profound insight that Chief Judge James Ware articulated in an ancillary opinion in the Proposition 8 litigation went relatively unnoticed. Chief Judge Ware explained more clearly than ever how we all benefit when we protect the fundamental rights of each other. The members of the targeted minority group are not the only ones who gain. Chief Judge Ware wrote:
In our society, a variety of citizens of different backgrounds coexist because we have constitutionally bound ourselves to protect the fundamental rights of one another from being violated by unlawful treatment. Thus, we all have an equal stake in a case that challenges the constitutionality of a restriction on a fundamental right.
We have been together for over 24 years and were one of the plaintiff couples in the 2008 California Supreme Court case that ended the exclusion of loving, committed same-sex couples from marriage, reversing Proposition 8. The California Supreme Court decision itself was profound. The import of that court's ruling was that for the first time in American history, all persons in a state enjoyed the fundamental constitutional right to marry the person they chose -- regardless of their race, religion, creed, national origin, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity. A person's fundamental right to the highest state recognition and protection for their relationship depended upon their humanity -- and no other external factor.
The California Supreme Court also became the first state supreme court in our country to hold that, under the state constitution, any law that treated lesbian and gay people differently from everyone else was subject to the highest degree of constitutional scrutiny. Any such law would be presumptively unconstitutional and could stand only if the state established the most compelling of reasons for the law. The California Supreme Court's ruling applies to every aspect of a lesbian or gay person's life -- and the court recognized the question of marriage equality simply as the particular case before it. President Obama followed the California Supreme Court's reasoning earlier this year when he decided that the United States Justice Department would no longer defend in court the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which excludes same-sex couples from the 1,138 federal rights and responsibilities that come with marriage.
The most profound moment Stuart and I have experienced over the last seven years in the marriage equality movement came after we exchanged vows in our wedding ceremony in San Francisco City Hall and then heard the words ring out, "And now by virtue of the authority vested in me by the State of California, I pronounce you spouses for life." It was the first time in our lives that we experienced our government treating us as equal human beings as gay people -- and it changed everything for us. We vowed at the moment to do everything we could to make this opportunity -- and the human dignity that comes with it -- a reality for every LGBTIQ person. And as we move ever closer to that goal, Chief Judge Ware's keen insights remind us that achieving this goal will benefit not just LGBTIQ people, but everyone without exception.