The Supreme Court’s landmark decision today on gay marriage is unquestionably historic, just do not believe the issue is settled. Here is why.
First, while the Court is the final arbiter of constitutional meaning, it is has “neither force nor will, but merely judgment.” The Supreme Court can issue rulings but it cannot enforce them. When faced with a ruling like, President Andrew Jackson famously declared “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.” Within this context, it is perhaps helpful to recall Brown v. Board (1954) which declared that schools should desegregate “will all deliberate speed,” opening the door to obstruction and delay. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, for example, has already declared Louisiana not recognize or offer gay marriages. And Texas Governor Greg Abbott will issue a directive designed to protect religious freedom against today’s landmark ruling. More than sixty years after Brown, and after making considerable progress from 1960-1980, American public schools are as segregated today as they were in the late 1960s.
Second, Supreme Court decisions often spur the losing side into political action. Consider, for example, the Roe v. Wade (1973) decision and the politics of abortion. This landmark decision mobilized pro-life advocates. Pro-choice advocates, believing the battle was permanently won, demobilized. The result has been a long series of state government restrictions followed by court decisions whittling away at the core protections provided via Roe v. Wade. States currently with bans on gay marriage may well explore ways to limit this newly minted protection, and the decision will have other unanticipated and unintended consequences.
Regardless of what follows, this is a landmark decision worth celebrating today. But tomorrow, the political groups and organizations that made this decision a reality will need to get back to work. The fight over equal rights has just begun.