In a little over the three weeks, the Supreme Court of the United States will finally take on the case of California's Prop 8 which would ban gay marriage in the state. (If you're unfamiliar with the history of Prop 8, well, first of all, shame on you and second of all, catch up here.) And while amicus curiae briefs have little legal standing, two filed yesterday in support of ruling Prop 8 unconstitutional have huge symbolic meaning.
First is the brief filed yesterday by the Obama administration. While the brief takes a stand in support of same-sex marriage, the administration has left itself some wiggle room in terms of states' rights. As the SCOTUSblog notes:
In essence, the position of the federal government would simultaneously give some support to marriage equality while showing some respect for the rights of states to regulate that institution. What the brief endorsed is what has been called the "eight-state solution" -- that is, if a state already recognizes for same-sex couples all the privileges and benefits that married couples have (as in the eight states that do so through "civil unions") those states must go the final step and allow those couples to get married. The argument is that it violates the Constitution's guarantee of legal equality when both same-sex and opposite-sex couples are entitled to the same marital benefits, but only the opposite-sex couples can get married.
And, yes, Illinois is included in the "eight-state solution." The brief walks a middle ground in claiming that Prop 8 is unconstitutional because it excludes rights previously extended in California on the basis of prejudice yet isn't worded so broadly that it would extend its mission to overturn bans on gay marriage in other states.
Meanwhile, a pair of NFL players - Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe and Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo - also filed an amicus curiae brief in support of ruling Prop 8 unconstitutional. While some may scoff at Kluwe's standing as "only" a punter, he's one of the league's more vocal players thanks to Twitter and willingness to participate in articles with sports blogs like Deadspin; his candor there has made him a popular player among fans. And Ayanbadejo is a decorated player - and now Super Bowl champion - and Chicagoans will remember him for his excellent, two-time-Pro-Bowl-worthy seasons with the Bears in 2006 and 2007.
But even more important than having two vocal players support gay marriage is that fact they do so just days after an NFL prospect claimed a team asked questions about his sexual preferences during the NFL combine. The homophobia that has always pervaded sports continues largely unabated and Kluwe and Ayanbadejo taking a stand is something to take note of. Part of the fight is not just in the courts, but in the nation's perception. With more people than ever supporting gay marriage, it's time to pull institutions that are lagging - professional sports, government - into the 21st Century and it's only through these public pronouncements of support that real change can continue to occur.