Thought Catalog
June 28, 2013

What If Diana Ross And The Supremes Had To Decide Gay Marriage?

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What is the issue?

When the Supreme Court of the United States recently read their majority opinion and announced their decision to overturn DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) and send California’s Prop 8 back down to the lower courts, they affirmed in both cases that any ban on same-sex marriage denies American citizens their liberty and equal protection under the Constitution. They ruled that everyone has the right to love and commit to whomever they want, and that all marriages are equal under the eyes of federal law. Thank you, Justice Kennedy. And I’m sure the flower shops of America would also like to thank you.

As many talking heads, media pundits and bloggers pointed out the Supreme Court’s ruling was a landmark moment in Civil Rights history. I followed the case closely, reading reports and listening to speculation by court-watchers in the months leading up to the court’s decision. A few days before the rulings I was kinda listening to tv news coverage about the high court, I had it on in the background, and a pair of talking heads were discussing four different ways the Supremes were likely to determine gay marriage. I was writing and half-daydreaming at the time. I had my back to the television. And even though I know “the Supremes” is shorthand for the Supreme Court justices, for a moment, Diana Ross and the Supremes popped into my mind.

They weren’t dressed in the standard black robes of judges, but they were behind the bench, in a spotlight, and they held gavels like microphones. So I let this little daydream play out in my imagination because it was awesome and I was curious, “How would… The Supremes decide gay marriage?”

You might think three women known for fabulous glittery dresses, big hair, sweet smiles and tender hearts, women who spent their lives in show business, they would obviously support gay marriage. And there you would be wrong. You have to remember we’re talking about three church-going black girls raised in Detroit in the 1950s. Their conservative social values would likely surprise you. Don’t judge Diana Ross by her afro.

Most folks think a long history of voting Democratic means black America leans to the left, and that may be true in elections but it’s not exactly true when it comes to social values. The church still holds a lot of sway. And black America doesn’t have a reputation for being entirely welcoming to the gay America. Let’s just say black America would probably be upset if gay America moved into its neighborhood.

If you find it hard to believe many black Americans hold conservative values, consider this… N.W.A.’s founder, Eazy-E, was a Republican fund-raiser.

Yes, that’s right. The head of the group responsible for “Fuck Tha Police,” used to pass the bread at the same dinner table as the folks who regularly demonized him and his music. According to a story on Vice.com, “Eazy, bless him, put up $1,230 to attend the event at DC’s Omni Shoreham Hotel and hear President George H.W. Bush speak.” But you don’t have to take Vice’s word for it, the rapper wrote about this fundraiser in an op-ed article the Los Angeles Times published, “I got a letter recently. It said: ‘On behalf of my colleagues in the U.S. Senate, it’s my privilege to invite you to accept membership in the Republican Senators’ Inner Circle. I believe your accomplishments prove you’re worthy of this important organization.’ It was signed Sen. Robert Dole.

Apparently, Eazy-E and Sen. Bob Dole both agreed that Eazy-E’s accomplishments in dope-dealing, hustling and gangster rap proved he was a perfect candidate to be a Republican-backer. If you really think about it the senator’s logic makes perfect sense. Eazy put on a new black leather suit and listened to the speeches. Ate dinner. And then donated to the Republican Party some of the fortune he made from songs like “Gangsta Gangsta” and “A Bitch iz a Bitch.” This story really speaks for itself. It provides everything you’ll ever need to know about the relationship between American politics and money.

But I understand if Eazy-E’s Republican stripe isn’t strong enough evidence of the social conservatism of black America, and perhaps, you’re one of the folks who would happily point out how President Obama helped moved the conversation about same-sex marriage forward for the nation, and in particular for many black Americans, when he announced his support. If so, consider these recent opinion surveys. According to a March 2013 Pew Center study that compiled results from four different surveys, their data suggests only 40% of black Americans support same-sex marriage while 48% still oppose it. This same study found that 61% of Democrats are in favor of same-sex marriage. If black America’s support for gay marriage is 20-percentage points lower than Democratic voters, that divide rather clearly illustrates the unexpected social conservatism of black America.

So… what if Diana Ross and The Supremes got to decide gay marriage?

Well, it seems, just like the rest of black America, they wouldn’t necessarily agree. Luckily, there’s only three of them, so that means they’d likely at least reach a majority 2-1 opinion.

Court-watchers familiar with the records of the nine Supreme Court justices were certain they’d likely split 4-4 on their rulings, with Justices Roberts, Thomas, Scalia and Alito all ruling against any change to federal law. While Justices Bader-Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan were expected to rule in favor of granting same-sex marriage constitutional protection. Which is exactly what happened. This left Justice Kennedy, the usual swing vote on the court, to decide the issue.

The original line-up of The Supremes featured Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard. All three women were known for their equally strong voices and opinions. Much like the U.S. Supreme Court they were fundamentally opposed to fully agree on anything, almost as if by design. So, much like the Supreme Court, it’s difficult to guess how they would rule. Based on purely imagined circumstances and opinions, here’s how Diana Ross and The Supremes would decide these two historic cases.

Florence Ballard: One of the founding members of the group “The Primettes” who would later go on to be known as The Supremes, Florence Ballard was an exceptional talent and was the first member of the group to be discovered. She was singing on her porch when a manager heard her voice. Impressed he asked her to join a girl-group he wanted to start. Unfortunately, as often as her life was touched by luck and opportunity, she was also visited by tragedy and passed away in 1976. Due to the fact she did not live long enough to see the sweeping social changes currently underway in America, the very notion of gay marriage would most likely seem like a joke to her ears. And since she’s the least familiar with modern life, since she’s deceased, she still holds the most socially conservative views.

Citing precedent from their chart-topping song “Stop! In the Name of Love,” Florence Ballard draws upon the lyrics to support her decision.

I’ve tried so hard, hard to be patient

Hoping you’d stop this infatuation

But each time you are together

I’m so afraid I’ll be losing you forever

Stop! In the name of love

Before you break my heart

Stop! In the name of love

Before you break my heart

Stop! In the name of love

Before you break my heart

As the lyrics reference, to conservative folk who oppose same-sex unions and wish to define marriage and keep it sacred, since to them the only acceptable love is between a man and a woman, they see gay marriage as a cultural “infatuation.” Kinda like a lesbian kiss in college. Certain conservatives fear that if gays and lesbians can do it, then marriage will lose its special status and somehow the very definition of love would also be irreparably damaged. Well, no one treats love that way on Florence Ballard’s watch. Which is why she’d order supporters of gay marriage to “Stop!” And Ballard would rule in favor of defending love and by extension the exclusivity of marriage. She’d find in favor of Proposition 8.and she’d rule to uphold DOMA. No change to the law.

Mary Wilson: She’s an equally talented singer as Florence Ballard, and the two girls were neighbors in the Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects of Detroit. They attended the same high school and performed together in singing competitions. When the manager of The Primes approached Ballard about joining his planned girl-group, he asked her if she knew any other singers she might recommend. She said she knew one girl. Mary Wilson. A fan favorite, Wilson stayed with The Supremes for their entire run, until 1977 when the band formally disbanded. After her music career slowed, she actively supported causes that mattered to her. She’s lectured across the United States with a series of talks called, “Dare to Dream,” and zealously urges her audiences to reach for their goals and overcome adversity. Good news for gay marriage. She seems about as likely a supporter of same-sex unions as the owner of a bed and breakfast.

Citing precedent from their song, “I Want A Guy,” Mary Wilson would suggest the lyrics urge one to consider these two cases from a more personal standpoint, and not to focus on the question of how the two cases affect the institution of marriage, rather how they affect the individual rights of the lovers.

I don’t need riches like diamond rings

As long as he loves me, that’s everything

As long as he holds me tight

As long as he treats me right

I’ll never let him out of my sight

I want a guy with a love that’s true

One that I can tell my troubles to

He’ll be my guy

And stay by my side
 I’d be so glad if I only had

A guy, a guy

Why can’t I have a guy?

The framers of the Constitution never included the phrase but everyone knows those seven words from the Declaration of Independence that describe three of the inalienable rights of every American citizen,“…Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Considering same-sex marriage to be a natural extension of these three rights, Wilson would rule to overturn to DOMA and reject Prop 8 in favor of equal protection for all Americans under the Constitution. She’d cite “As long as he loves me, that’s everything,” as the key point of argument. What court gets to deny someone’s love?

With The Supremes split 1-1, it would come down to Diana Ross to render a final decision. That’s just how it has to play out. There’s no other way. If you know anything about Diana Ross, you know she’s a diva. Naturally, she’d insist she set the law of the land. Basically, she’d get to be Justice Kennedy, the Supreme Court judge who regularly breaks judicial deadlocks. I don’t know if Justice Kennedy thinks of himself as a diva, but let’s face it, he’s a legal diva.

Diana Ross: She was invited to join The Supremes by either Mary Wilson or the Temptations’ Paul Williams, depending on which biography you prefer. Diana Ross is by far the most famous member of the seminal girl group. After she left The Supremes she enjoyed a career as a movie star, a product pitch-woman and beloved fashion icon for countless drag queens. But don’t let her affinity for gay culture lead you to believe she’d automatically side in favor of same-sex marriage. Although her 1980 song “I’m Coming Out” is a popular gay anthem, she’s never embraced her position as a gay icon with the same verve as say, Cher. Which makes Diana Ross a rather difficult one to guess which way she’d rule. Mostly, just because It’s hard to understand the mind of a diva.

Citing precedent found in their chart-topping single, “You Can’t Hurry Love,” Diana Ross would address the timeliness of the court’s decision.

No, I can’t bear to live my life alone

I grow impatient for a love to call my own

But when I feel that I, I can’t go on

These precious words keep me hangin’ on

I remember mama said:

You can’t hurry love

No, you just have to wait

She said love don’t come easy

It’s a game of give and take

You can’t hurry love

No, you just have to wait

She said trust, give it time

No matter how long it takes

The lyrics indicate the importance of caution. They suggest the American people may not be ready for such a landmark decision. After acknowledging the conservative tendencies of older generations, and after considering their advice on love, Diana Ross would also cite precedent established in their other hit single, “Back In My Arms Again.”

Ooh! But now

He’s back in my arms again

Right by my side

I got him back in my arms again

So satisfied

It’s easy for friends to say

Let him go

But I’m the one

Who needs him so

It’s his love that makes me strong

Without him I can’t go on

This time I’ll live my life at ease

Being happy lovin’ whom I please…

These lyrics undeniably and eloquently argue how everyone has the right to love whomever they please. Reading the majority opinion, Diana Ross would speak right to the heart of the matter, and surprising everyone with her very un-diva-like and generous spirit, she’d cite a song by The Supremes that featured her replacement, Tammi Terrell, singing the lead rather than her, the 1970 hit, “Everybody’s Got The Right To Love.”

You can have all the things that you desire

But without love you just can’t survive

You need love to warm your heart at night

When you’re all alone and no comfort’s in sight

Everybody needs somebody

Everybody’s got the right to love

And thus, Diana Ross would rule in favor of equal protection for all under the Constitution. Supporting the universal rights of love and commitment, The Supremes would rule 2-1 in favor of same-sex marriage. Justice is blind… but it’s not deaf. Motown songs always celebrated the first law of love. And this ruling by Diana Ross and The Supremes affirms…

Everybody’s got the right to love… and marry whomever they please

And now, thanks to my favorite legal diva, Justice Kennedy, we can all dance on out this daydream and celebrate in the real world because “the Supremes” were as just wise as Diana Ross and The Supremes… and ruled in favor of love. TC mark

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