A bolt of good news punctuated the generally gloomy political landscape last week, when Congress reauthorized the historic 1994 Violence Against Women Act, which aids victims of sexual and domestic violence.
Overwhelmingly supported by Democrats, the law was renewed with the support of a significant number of Republicans who were intent on escaping the leash of right-wing leaders who see women as second-class citizens — if not outright chattel.
Later this month the nation's eyes will again zero in on Republicans. This time it will be the five Republican-appointed members of the US Supreme Court who will be under scrutiny.
On March 27 and 28, the court is scheduled to hear arguments in two cases that could essentially put America on the road to full marriage equality by a) repealing California's Proposition 8 prohibiting same-sex marriage and b) voiding the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act, which bars gay and lesbian couples from all federal marriage benefits, regardless of whether they're married under state law.
These are constitutional showdowns of monumental importance. They will alter society's contours just as surely as did last year's decisions that ratified Obamacare (good) and allowed unlimited special-interest political contributions (bad).
Zapping Proposition 8 and disintegrating the cruelly named Defense of Marriage Act will require at least one Republican on the court to join the four Democrat-appointed justices who, it is assumed, are in support of such action.
In recent days, those of big heart and decent temperament who for years have advocated equal marriage rights for gay, straight, and transgender people — including those of us at the Phoenix — have found reason to be optimistic.
Exhibit one: more than 100 Republican former elected and appointed officials have filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the overturn of Proposition 8. These recruits to equality include former Bay State governors Bill Weld and Jane Swift; former Utah governor and presidential candidate Jon Huntsman; and, perhaps most significantly, Meg Whitman, who made support for Proposition 8 a key part of her campaign when she ran for governor of California in 2010.
Exhibit two: a group of big-name corporations, from Apple to Nike, have petitioned the court against Proposition 8; another 200-plus have urged the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. Corporate America could have played it safe and kept quiet. These companies showed courage in saying that it's fundamentally unfair and unreasonable to have to treat their legally married same-sex couples as a different class of people; it's bad for morale, which is bad for productivity.
Exhibit three: President Obama, committing the full political faith and credit of his administration to this struggle by arguing in the government's friend-of-the-court brief that "the exclusion of gay and lesbian couples from marriage does not substantially further any important government interest. Proposition 8 thus violates equal protection." This may not sound like much to most people. But to constitutional experts this is Obama launching a massive assault on anything banning marriage equality. If the court were to be fully convinced by the "lack of government interest" argument, all 30 state bans on same-sex marriage would fall — including California's. That would be a long shot.
Trying to predict how the Supreme Court will decide is almost as tricky as forecasting the upcoming Red Sox season. But in both cases, hope springs eternal. If the moment is not now, it is certainly getting closer. Take heart.