Google Glasses at the Supreme Court?

By Joel P. Engardio

In the same week the Supreme Court heard its two historic cases on same-sex marriage, Google announced the first lucky test subjects who would get to try Google Glass — history-making eyewear that puts the Internet in your field of vision. None of the justices were selected, but maybe Google should lend them a pair before they reach a decision in June.

During oral arguments about Proposition 8 on March 26, Justice Samuel Alito complained that it’s hard to assess whether the effects of same-sex marriage are good or bad when the practice is “newer than the Internet.” A pair of Google’s new glasses might have helped him see more clearly.

It’s true that the world’s first same-sex marriage didn’t happen until 2001 in the Netherlands. But Internet glasses would also show how the sky hasn’t fallen in the 11 countries where people can now marry the person they love.

Justice Alito would see one of the country’s lowest divorce rates in Massachusetts, the first U.S. state to allow same-sex marriage. And he’d see lots of well-loved kids, growing up happy and healthy.

The eyewear might help Chief Justice John Roberts avoid future moments of skepticism, like the one he had in the courtroom March 27 during arguments over the Defense of Marriage Act. He wanted to know what accounted for a “sea change” of national opinion favoring same-sex marriage. “I’m just trying to see where that comes from,” Roberts wondered, “if not from the political effectiveness of groups on your side.”

Glasses would reveal that this “sea change” didn’t come from all the politicians Roberts said were “falling over themselves” to get on the same-sex marriage bandwagon. It happened because regular people — scared and vulnerable — had the courage to step out of the closet and tell their stories. Now most Americans have a loved one they know is gay.

Justice Antonin Scalia could have benefited from glasses, too. He wanted to know the exact date it became unconstitutional to ban same-sex couples from marrying. Was it 1791, when the Bill of Rights was ratified? Or 1868, when the 14th Amendment promised all citizens equal protection of the law? Frustrated that he couldn’t pin it down, Justice Scalia nearly threw in the towel.

“How am I supposed to know how to decide a case,” he asked the lawyer representing the same-sex couples in the Prop. 8 case, “if you can’t give me a date when the Constitution changes?”

One look through Google-powered glasses and Scalia might have seen a long history of “the love that dare not speak its name.” He’d see gay people in every culture and race through the ages and know that centuries of systematic oppression could never be constitutional. He might even see what Founding Father Thomas Jefferson said about how the U.S. Constitution can deal with society’s progress: “As new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times.”

Also published in San Francisco Examiner April 10, 2013

LGBTJoel Engardio