Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Extra Time

I much prefer sports metaphors that open a little window of understanding life over sports metaphors that, well, define life.

Time is fluid in soccer. The match is supposed to last 90 minutes, but the referee may add time and allow play to continue if numerous injuries, substitutions, or other interruptions have conspired to prevent a fair full 90 minutes of competition. This makes for an agonizing experience when, say, your team has dominated possession and outplayed the other side and finally put a shot in the back of the net in the 89th minute. The clock rolls over 90:00 and you think the game's over, but because somebody's head got split open and had to be tended for a while, and somebody else needed lecturing after a yellow card, and the guys being substituted strolled off the field instead of sprinting, the referee says no, the game's not over yet. So you play on and wait and die every time the other team puts a shot on goal that takes a weird hop or deflects off a defender and you think goddammit, we had this thing won and you try to hold on until the whistle finally blows.

So now, after watching Vaughn Walker chest the ball off his own goal line and dribble circles around Prop 8 for the length of the field and fire an unstoppable shot into the top corner for a sure winner, we have extra time. Yeah, Walker put the first extra two minutes on the clock himself--the metaphor breaks down here a bit, but still--but now the 9th Circuit has added what feels like an entire additional half.

A federal appeals court decided Monday to put same-sex marriage in California on hold at least until December, interrupting the wedding plans of scores of gay couples who were hoping to exchange vows later this week.

We are told this is actually a good thing from a strategic standpoint, since it prevents the case from being prematurely kicked up to a Supreme Court that might not rule in our favor.

Loyola Law School professor Richard Hasen said Monday's order was strategically advantageous for supporters of same-sex marriage, no matter how disappointed many couples may be. If the panel had refused to place a hold on Walker's ruling, the supporters of Proposition 8 were prepared to seek a stay from the Supreme Court. The court is believed to be divided on the question of gay marriage, with Justice Anthony Kennedy considered a swing vote. A vote on a hold might have pushed the justices into taking an early position on the question.

"I think there are strategic reasons why even the most ardent supporter of gay marriage could opt for a stay," said Hasen, an expert on federal court stays. "The concern is that rushing things to the Supreme Court could lead to an adverse result [for supporters of gay marriage.] If this case takes another year to get to the U.S. Supreme Court, there could be more states that adopt same-sex marriage and more judicial opinions that reach that conclusion."

Hasen said the hold "takes the heat" off Kennedy and takes the case "off the front burner for a while."

I'm not sure how a year's extra time makes Judge Walker's findings of fact any more or less compelling to Justice Kennedy, nor am I sure how many more states are poised to adopt marriage equality instead of strengthening its prohibition. And I'm really not sure how the scoreboard showing states approving and states opposing any civil rights legislation is relevant to the Supreme Court's evaluation of the legislation's constitutionality. As much as I would love to see, say, 45 more states adopt marriage equality in the next year, that shouldn't be a necessary or even contributing condition to Anthony Kennedy deciding that the 14th Amendment really does still count, and that equality is not negotiable.

Yet again we are being told to just wait a little longer, to be patient, to let the dust settle and not pressure people in power, to see if maybe somebody somewhere in some other state will pick up the slack and do something, because if enough states do something, maybe it won't be so hard for the people who can do something federally binding to actually do it.

Hey, you've already played 90 minutes plus two, so what's two more, and two more, and two more after that? And if the other team manages to poke one in because you're exhausted and your keeper's screened? Well, you're used to losing, so no big deal, right? Right.

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