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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

There’s an oft-repeated phrase in discussions of same-sex marriage: “Be on the right side of history.”

I prefer something simpler: Be right.

We are swiftly arriving at the point where most Americans recognize right from wrong and see — with clarity gained through experience or thoughtful reconsideration — the fiction that love could somehow be ruinous to society.

And so it was notable last week, as the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a string of lower-court rulings that knocked down same-sex marriage bans in five states, that there was relative silence from the politicians who had once so strongly endorsed such bans.

It was as if they were too busy pondering a leap to the right side of history to be bothered.

By declining to hear appeals in these cases, the high court paved the way for same-sex marriage to be legal in 30 states.

For years, Republican politicians and, lest we forget, a good number of Democrats, including our current president, made clear in their campaigns that marriage should be between a man and woman. They built a wall and leaned into it, forcefully.

But now, with the hearts and minds of the populace changing and people from both parties stepping away, that wall is coming down, liable to squash the still-stubborn few trying to keep it in place.

Those flattened souls are the ones history will remember harshly. Not the many who opposed same-sex marriage and then eked away as attitudes shifted, but the ones who bucked public opinion and reasonableness and fought on, highlighting the worst of the arguments used against the civil rights issue of this age.

To that end, I give you Republican Texas senator Ted Cruz, one of the few high-profile politicians to protest the Supreme Court’s decision to stand down. Cruz is likely to run for president in 2016.

He responded to the expansion of same-sex marriage rights by utilizing the three H’s: hysteria, hypocrisy and hypothetical history.

The first line of Cruz’s statement was: “The Supreme Court’s decision to let rulings by lower court judges stand that redefine marriage is both tragic and indefensible.” That’s hysteria, the idea that allowing two men or two women to marry is somehow a tragedy or an assault on the greater good.

The predictions that opening marriage to gay and lesbian couples would tear apart the fabric of society never came to pass, and public support for same-sex marriage has risen steadily, crossing the 50 percent threshold in Gallup polls in 2011 and continuing to climb.

Cruz, in his excoriation of the high court, then moved on to hypocrisy: “This is judicial activism at its worst.”

Judicial activism is a term politicians of all stripes use when a court makes a decision they oppose. But what about earlier this year, when individuals on the same court struck down limits on the total amount of money people can give to candidates, political parties and committees, opening the door for big-money donors to wield greater influence?

The justices were not, in Cruz’s opinion, irresponsible activists. He released a statement praising their decision: “Today’s Supreme Court decision is a victory for the First Amendment.”

I’m sorry, but you can’t have it both ways.

Lastly, hypothetical history. By not hearing appeals of the lower-court rulings, Cruz said the Supreme Court is “applying an extremely broad interpretation to the 14th Amendment,” which guarantees equal protection and due process:

“The Court is making the preposterous assumption that the People of the United States somehow silently redefined marriage in 1868 when they ratified the 14th Amendment.”

If that’s preposterous, then it’s equally preposterous that the noble folks who adopted the First Amendment back in 1791 assumed it would be used to allow corporations and wealthy individuals to give vast amounts of money to political campaigns. And yet here we are.

Following the Supreme Court’s ruling, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stuck down same-sex marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada. Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote that “when a state is in the business of marriage, it must affirm the love and commitment of same-sex couples in equal measure. Recognizing that right dignifies them; in so doing, we dignify our Constitution.”

In other words, it’s not about being on the right side of history. It’s about being right.

Cruz may someday be remembered as one of the last politicians to speak out vociferously in opposition to same-sex marriage.

He will also be remembered for being wholly and shamefully wrong.

Rex Huppke is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune and a noted hypocrisy enthusiast. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @RexHuppke.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

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