Words changing lives
Rachel Platten sings that “a single word can make a heart open.”
I’ve harnessed and witnessed the power of words countless times in my life. Only last week, I read a few sentences that will have changed my whole life before long.
Words are powerful generally, but sometimes, a few words can change entire lives and history all at once.
I read such words today, and remembered why I ever wanted to be an attorney.
I wanted to be like my mom’s attorney, Bill. It’s easy to remember that.
Another large part, a part forgotten until some external circumstance jogs loose a distant sense of longing, was wanting to work the kind of word-magic that could change lives for the better. I wanted to wield my pen for a better world, for better, safer lives, for joy and for happiness. I envisioned being a lawyer as like being a superhero whose superpower was words.
Today I read the text of the U.S. Supreme Court decision on OBERGEFELL ET AL. v. HODGES, DIRECTOR, OHIO DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH, ET AL.
I felt like I was witnessing a superhero at work, not in the end decision but in the actual steps leading up to it.
I was watching Superman use his laser beam vision. Wolverine use his blades. Thunder Thighs using her body odor for the betterment of mankind.
Where many perceive the law as a dry and boring place of fact abstracted from reality, this decision laid bare how very much the law is about living, breathing, aching human beings whose superpowers include remembering their lost beloved:
Petitioner James Obergefell, a plaintiff in the Ohio case, met John Arthur over two decades ago. They fell in love and started a life together, establishing a lasting, committed relation. In 2011, however, Arthur was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. This debilitating disease is progressive, with no known cure. Two years ago, Obergefell and Arthur decided to commit to one another, resolving to marry before Arthur died. To fulfill their mutual promise, they traveled from Ohio to Maryland, where same-sex marriage was legal. It was difficult for Arthur to move, and so the couple were wed inside a medical transport plane as it remained on the tarmac in Baltimore. Three months later, Arthur died. Ohio law does not permit Obergefell to be listed as the surviving spouse on Arthur’s death certificate. By statute, they must remain strangers even in death, a stateimposed separation Obergefell deems “hurtful for the rest of time.” App. in No. 14–556 etc., p. 38. He brought suit to be shown as the surviving spouse on Arthur’s death certificate.
The decision recounted a few other circumstances leading living, breathing, aching human beings to stand before the Supreme Court, which continued its decision:
The cases now before the Court involve other petitioners as well, each with their own experiences. Their stories reveal that they seek not to denigrate marriage but rather to live their lives, or honor their spouses’ memory, joined by its bond.
More powerful than any work of fiction was this work of truth.
I had goosebumps as I continued reading.
The four principles and traditions to be discussed demonstrate that the reasons marriage is fundamental under the Constitution apply with equal force to same-sex couples.
That single sentence, the portent of powerful change to come just pages ahead.
As all parties agree, many same-sex couples provide loving and nurturing homes to their children, whether biological or adopted. And hundreds of thousands of children are presently being raised by such couples.
There are not enough loving families to raise all those children without families of their own. Why deprive those children of parents who will love them well and eternally, no matter what jurists millenia ago believed?
Indeed, while the States are in general free to vary the benefits they confer on all married couples, they have throughout our history made marriage the basis for an expanding list of governmental rights, benefits, and responsibilities. These aspects of marital status include: taxation; inheritance and property rights; rules of intestate succession; spousal privilege in the law of evidence; hospital access; medical decisionmaking authority; adoption rights; the rights and benefits of survivors; birth and death certificates; professional ethics rules; campaign finance restrictions; workers’ compensation benefits; health insurance; and child custody, support, and visitation rules.
No one else’s right to be shielded from others’
immoral loving decisions is profound enough to deny loving couples these essential, government sanctioned and sponsored benefits of marriage.
Yet by virtue of their exclusion from that institution, same-sex couples are denied the constellation of benefits that the States have linked to marriage.
Laser beam words. I never thought I would see superpowers in motion in my lifetime.
This is the sound of lives being joined, by love and by words, I breathed to myself with eyes full of tears. This is the sound of words changing lives. Pew, pew, pew.
I felt every word skillfully selected as I read the decision, and yet it would not be right to share all the words or all my responses.
You must read the decision yourself. You must read the references, the analyses and the conclusion to see word superpowers changing lives.
Your ability to read it all and reason for yourself is your superpower. Once it might not have been a superpower, or even a power at all; today, in the war of televised talking heads, it is rare, glorious and worthy of being deemed a superpower.
Please set aside an hour to read the decision yourself. To feel the words, the history, the law as living.
Even if you disagree with the conclusion, you will be bearing witness–first hand, not second or fourteenth–to history being made. By man. By word. By love.
It is so ordered.
History is so changed.