Individual rights have always a hard thing to define. Things like property rights are defended time and time again by the judicial system, but many substances remain banned for recreational use. In more recent news, same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide in the United States(Liptak), even though many states had banned it. As recently as 2012, less than a fifth of states had legalized same-sex marriage. This landmark case had a lot of people asking why same-sex marriage was banned anywhere in the first place. The cartoon above seeks to use recognizable symbols of justice and liberty to reflect on the now-obvious solution of letting an individual marry whoever they want.
Many conservative and religious groups were outraged by this decision. The argument that same-sex marriage should be illegal is a more complex one than may seem obvious. Many opponents clung to the bible(Blinder and Pena), quoting the book of Leviticus as declaring homosexuality as a sin. But for those with a more subtle complaint, it would seem that the threat they experienced was over the definition of the term “marriage.” Some opponents of same-sex marriage argued that if homosexuals could be married, then their marriage would be somehow cheapened. The idea there being that a marriage means less the less exclusive it is, almost like a club. Ultimately, however, the Supreme Court sided with the people who believed any consenting adults who were in love could be married.
The symbols contained in this cartoon seek to convey the degree to which the author deemed this solution obvious. The first way this is done is through the use of an ancient symbol, Lady Justice. Since ancient times, Lady Justice has been portrayed as a blindfolded woman holding scales. This represents an idea that goes back nearly as far as civilized human society, the idea that justice should be blind, and therefore give fair treatment to everyone. The scales held by Lady Justice are meant to symbolize a system that cannot be fooled by counterfeit ideas or testimony. This symbol is meant to convey that justice was done, as a blindfolded woman cannot tell whether a marriage is same-sex or not. Towards the same end, the scales that are designed to depict fair treatment, would be symbolically unable to tell if the two people being married are a same-sex couple or a “traditional” couple. A symbol that has forever exemplified the principles of justice applies again so far in the future from its creation.
The second of the symbols in the center of this cartoon is the Statue of Liberty. This American icon has always been a beacon of hope to oppressed peoples, as her broken shackles symbolize a place where one can live free of judgement. The torch Liberty holds is meant to represent enlightenment and hope for outsiders looking towards America. By using Liberty and Justice in conjunction, Bennett also visually evokes one of the most famous phrases from the Pledge of Allegiance, a pledge which describes America as a place that has “Liberty and Justice for all,” even though there were many couples that couldn’t be legally married until 2015. Using this visual joke highlights the misstep of many states in outlawing same-sex marriage. All of these symbols represent, in the more abstract, fair treatment and equal rights.
Finally, Lady Justice, and Lady Liberty are perched upon a wedding cake together. The wedding cake reads: “Same-sex Marriage.” This visual joke is meant to highlight the fact that when Liberty and Justice came together, to truly be “for all,” same-sex marriage had to be legalized. This joke also explores the irony that the symbols that represent the individual right to marriage are both female, so the figurative marriage of these ideals is also same-sex. Triumph is the theme of the cartoon, and the fact that the most appropriate symbols to represent the victory of same-sex marriage over restriction turned out to be the same sex is almost too impressive to be true.
This cartoon is meant to evoke the joy of a wedding while using symbolism to root this joy to the resolution of a long-debated issue. Opponents of same-sex marriage were finally defeated, and the euphoria of a wedding was rooted to the most popular symbols for liberty and justice. By portraying Lady Liberty and Lady Justice as a newly married couple, the artist also employed the figurative meaning of marriage, intending this to be a symbol of a meeting of the minds more than literal marriage. In using these symbols, Bennett captured the cultural rejoice that followed the defense of same-sex marriage by the Supreme Court. Individual liberties were again defended from States’ encroachment by the judicial system.
Blinder, Alan, and Richard Perez-Pena. “Kentucky Clerk Denies Same-Sex Marriage Licenses, Defying Court.” New York Times 2 Dec. 2015. Web. 13 Dec. 2015.
Liptak, Adam. “Supreme Court Rules Same-sex Marriage a Right Nationwide.” New York Times 26 June 2015. Web. 13 Dec. 2015.
McKinley, Jesse, and Laurie Goodstein. “Bans in 3 States on Gay Marriage.” New York Times 5 Nov. 2008. Web. 13 Dec. 2015.
Ura, Alexa. “Texas Concedes Legal Challenge to Same-Sex Marriage Ban.” The Texas Tribune 1 July 2015. Web. 13 Dec. 2015.