“Let me not to the marriage of true minds/Admit impediments. Love is not love/Which alters when it alteration finds,/Or bends with the remover to remove:/O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,/That looks on tempests and is never shaken;/It is the star to every wandering bark,/Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken./Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks/Within his bending sickle’s compass come;/Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,/But bears it out even to the edge of doom./If this be error and upon me proved,/I never writ, nor no man ever loved.” (Shakespeare, Sonnet 116)
Next to the Apostle Paul’s “love poem” in Chapter 13 of the his first book to the Corinthians in the Biblical New Testament, this sonnet by the passionate lover William Shakespeare may be the most famous and eloquent paean to what defines love, and its inseparability from notions of permanence and fidelity in human relations. There is no prerequisite demanded concerning the gender of the persons who are the recipients of or participants in this love.
All of us being mortal, these testaments to love stand as great ideals to which we strive and a hope for their fulfillment constitutes the highest aspiration driving a human life.
In my view, any person who burns in rage and insolence and justifies that anger by a religious ground should sit quietly and read I Corinthians 13 slowly and out loud, and then do the same with this Shakespeare sonnet. Are such expressions of love as these to be denied to an entire class of persons under our Constitution?
Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, in writing the opinion for the 5-4 majority released last Friday establishing marriage equality as the law of the land, opined similarly.
“No union is more profound than marriage,” he wrote, “for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In the forming of a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
You see, there is something almost magical in the establishment of this nation that grounds it in something more than mere common law.
It is grounded in the aspirations of its founders to endow the world with a governance rooted in a commitment to grant “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” to all.
“The pursuit of happiness” defines the congruence between our Constitution and the notions of love that Shakespeare and the Apostle Paul spoke of. The phrase was changed from “life, liberty and property” to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” by our nation’s founders.
Then comes 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Richard Posner, a conservative, who writes in Slate that Justice Roberts’ dissent from Kennedy is “heartless and akin to dissenters who opposed biracial marriage in the 1960s.”
He wrote, “Gratuitous interference in other people’s lives is bigotry. The fact that it is often religiously motivated does not make it less so. The United States is not a theocracy, and religious disapproval of harmless practices is not a proper basis for prohibiting such practices, especially if the practices are highly valued by their practitioners.
“Gay couples and the children (mostly straight) that they adopt (or that one of them may have given birth to and the other adopts) derive substantial benefits, both economical and psychological, from marriage. Efforts to deny them those benefits by forbidding same-sex marriage confer no offsetting social benefits – in fact, no offsetting benefits at all beyond gratifying feelings of hostility toward gays and lesbians.”