In the United States, there are issues of national importance that deserve debate in the Supreme Court, but gay marriage is not one of them. Now that I have your attention, let me clarify my viewpoint. I believe that same-sex couples should have full rights under the law, which include the right to get married, but I have doubts about whether the Supreme Court is the venue for challenging the hetero-normative ideals that currently deny gays and lesbians this privilege.
The Supreme Court is tasked with being an apolitical body, unfettered by the whims of the people, and charged with upholding the Constitution. Challenging the perspectives of traditional culture is not part of their mandate, and such radical cultural shifts are rarely established by court decisions. There are celebrated cases, such as Brown v. Board of Education, that are held up as iconic paradigm shifts, however, none of these cases occurred in a cultural vacuum. It was not the court that caused the cultural shift away from “separate but equal,” but rather the court reacted to shifts in race relations that were already too developed to ignore.
After reading Edelman and the Rise of Public Relations, I learned that Edelman’s Seattle office represented a small start-up called gay.com towards the end of the 1990s. This website was a vehicle for social networking and information within the LGBT community. Concurrent with this assignment, Edelman’s New York office had a global Christian humanitarian client that paid five times more than gay.com. According to Patrick McGuire (then head of the Seattle office), the humanitarian organization “got wind that we were representing gay.com and asked that we resign the business.” We did not, and we ultimately retained both clients. “Respect” is one of Edelman’s core values and we will not mishandle any of our clients for a fee or temporary gain. Over 20 years later, Edelman continues to advocate and celebrate the LGBT community and recently joined the “It Gets Better” campaign to support youth who are being mistreated because of their sexual orientation.
Will this Supreme Court challenge even acknowledge the homophobia and discrimination that has led to so many people being stigmatized and denied rights to equal protection under the law? I fear that we are not at a watershed moment yet, where it would be pragmatic for the court to do so. Thus, I believe the court will not properly address this important cultural issue. Any decision they make, while significant in addressing the specific legal questions at hand, will not fully address the overall civil rights issue facing same-sex couples throughout the United States. As global citizens, we must be at the forefront of leading cultural shifts through our actions. We still have a lot of work to do and we must stay focused on our long-term vision.
Zing Shaw is vice president, diversity & inclusion at Edelman U.S.