“As the Constitution endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom.” So said Justice Kennedy in conclusion of his landmark opinion in Lawrence v. Texas, the seminal case that struck down sodomy laws and ushered in an era of promise for the movement. Word.
As we mark Constitution Day, we should be encouraged bythe vindication of our most basic constitutional rights by the Supreme Court in cases such as Lawrence. Slowly but surely, we’re beginning to reap the benefit of our successes. For example, a federal district court in Pennsylvania recently invoked Lawrence in reuniting a longtime same-sex couple whose conditions of probation forbade them from having any contact with one another because they weren’t considered a family. And a federal appellate court did likewise in reinstating a legal challenge to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
At the same time, we must remain mindful of how fragile our successes are. Since the Supreme Court issued its 6-3 ruling in Lawrence, Justice O’Connor has retired. A retirement by another member of the majority in Lawrence is possible in the near term. Our ability to preserve our victory in Lawrence — let alone our ability to defend our rights as future cases presenting issues ranging from religious freedom to relationship recognition to medical privacy make their way to the Supreme Court — depends heavily on how the composition of the Supreme Court shakes out in the coming years.
The stark reality is that for Justice Kennedy’s words to have any meaning we need a Supreme Court that’s willing to safeguard the freedoms that the Constitution guarantees. Something for our community to consider not only today, but every day between now and the election.
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