The intimate relationship between equality and freedom is at the heart of the highest and finest ideals that define the United States of America. Philosophers in older countries may have found the language to articulate the abstract principles that underlie a meaningful and dignified democracy. But the very existence of the United States, its revolutionary coming-into-being, was based on the profound belief that these noble abstractions could actually be put into practice as a way of life for ordinary people.
The ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage is a landmark decision in a country fractured by culture wars that never seem to end.
The pursuit of happiness, life and liberty's ultimate end-point was never going to be easy for humanity, given our ingrained need to believe that other people's gains come at our own expense. But, as the majority of judges in the 5-4 ruling have asserted, the constant attempt by U.S. legislators to ban same-sex marriages offends against the most basic American values.
It is unconstitutional, the court decided, to deny an existing right to people who simply want what their fellow citizens already possess. What could be more American than that?
"They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law," said Justice Anthony Kennedy, the conservative-leaning judge who wrote the majority decision. "The Constitution grants them that right."
That's the easiest and most safely legalistic way to reject the challenges against same-sex marriage brought by supporters of a narrower, more strictly procreative male-and-female definition of marriage – particularly in an age when heterosexual commitments are no longer shackled by the same stern traditional rules.
It's clear that the opposition to same-sex marriage in the U.S. will continue despite the Supreme Court's ruling. The narrowness of the majority, the fact that these judges are unelected, the Republican politicians' selective insistence that they answer only to the judgments of God – every extraneous argument and inflexible prejudice will be deployed to resist the advancement of a desire that is both constitutional and unstoppable.
In the end, resistance is futile, not because it goes against the growing tide of public opinion, but simply because it is wrong in the most fundamental, un-American way. The institution of marriage is strengthened, not weakened, by those who will fight their way to the highest court to obtain it.