There’s no question that marriage equality is on a roll, spurred by both the rapid shift in public opinion expressing itself through referendums and legislatures and by the federal courts in overturning state laws banning same-sex marriage. But Paul Waldman points to the one thing that could dramatically slow down that progress:
But there is one scenario by which what today seems like an inevitable forward movement for marriage equality could be undone, and it may be the only hope conservatives have left. It involves a Republican winning the White House in 2016 and a liberal justice retiring, to be replaced by a conservative.
This isn’t some remote possibility. We have no idea what the election of 2016 will be like, and while as a liberal you probably think that the current crop of Republican contenders are a bunch of bozos, people thought that about any number of people who ended up winning the White House (see Bush, George W.). As of now, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 81, Stephen Breyer is 76, Sonia Sotomayor is 60, and Elena Kagan is 54. Any one of them could retire for any number of reasons. And once President Rand Paul appoints Ted Cruz to take that retiree’s place, things look very different.
Ginsburg is obviously the biggest concern. And it may well be that the conservatives on the court didn’t vote to take these cases for that reason entirely. This wouldn’t stop marriage equality entirely, of course, only the judicial path to achieving it nationwide. With the huge shift in public opinion, the legislative route is still very much alive, it’s just slower.