All people deserve respect and protection
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for a 5-4 majority of the U.S. Supreme Court, explained its rejection of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act in clear terms:
Congress had no business interfering with a state's decision to extend "the recognition, dignity and protection" of marriage to same-sex couples.
By denying same-sex couples the rights and responsibilities of marriage intertwined in more than 1,000 provisions of federal law, "DOMA writes inequality into the entire United States Code."
That is undeniably true.
The 1996 act denied federal benefits to gay couples married under state law.
The ruling struck down the federal law and said legally married gay couples are entitled to the same federal benefits as straight couples.
This is, to many fair-minded people, simple common sense.
A longtime same-sex partner should not be denied equal protection of the law in court proceedings, or be denied housing benefits, or spousal benefits or retirement benefits if a partner dies.
Such discrimination does not square with the basic principle of fairness.
The high court's ruling means that the fight to legalize same-sex marriages will be continued with fresh vigor in the states that do not now recognize such unions.
Many questions remain to be resolved.
"The Obama administration said it would move swiftly to ensure same-sex married couples get the same tax and other benefits as heterosexual couples, although the process for doing so is uncertain for same-sex couples who marry in one state, then move to a state that doesn't recognize gay marriage," said a Wall Street Journal story.
This will all have to be worked out, case by case, statute by statute, state by state. Only 12 states and the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage, so conflict is not at an end.
All Americans should work to resolve these issues in a mutually respectful way.
Christians would betray their fundamental principle - "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" - if they conducted themselves any other way.
That said, it would be equally unwise for proponents of same-sex marriages to use the ruling in an attempt to restrict the rights of deeply religious people to express their beliefs.
Writing for realclearreligion.org, Benjamin Domenech puts his concern this way:
"I'm talking about something much bigger here than the discrimination lawsuits brought across the country against bakers and photographers.
"I'm talking about whether churches will be able to function as public entities in an era where their views on sin, particularly sexual sin, are in direct conflict with not just opinion but the law - and proselytizing those views from the pulpit or in the public square will be viewed as using the protection of religious expression to protect hateful speech."
Domenech notes that the Obama administration has already argued "that faith-based hiring and firing is a discriminatory act for religious entities."
Such federal intrusion clearly harms religious freedom as guaranteed by the First Amendment.
"Without religious liberty, there really is no such thing as free speech," Domenech wrote.
"When government can pick and choose which form of expression is religiously defensible and which is unjustified hate, it fundamentally alters the relationship between state and citizen," he wrote.
Everyone ought to step carefully here.
The righting of one wrong should not lead to the creation of others.