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Return of Phil Robertson a win-win

Story highlights

  • Right wins "Duck Dynasty" battle but losing war, Dean Obeidallah says
  • Marriage equality will be the law of the land in the future, he says
  • Vibrant, healthy debate is one reason our nation is exceptional, he says

"Duck Dynasty" star Phil Robertson is back on A&E after a short suspension over controversial remarks he made about gays and black people. While the right is congratulating itself on winning this battle, it's actually losing its war on marriage equality. But both developments are good for America.

What do I mean? Simple: While I completely disagree with Robertson's view on gays, he has the right -- which I defend -- to practice his faith and advocate his political and religious beliefs. The debate that erupted after his comments is healthy for our nation. If a person espouses views that others find offensive, they should be countered -- not silenced.

And the right losing its war on marriage equality is also good for our nation because we must eradicate discrimination in all forms. To those who don't understand (or refuse to understand) how opposing marriage equality is discrimination, all you need to do is check out three court decisions announced, coincidentally enough, during the same time period that the Robertson controversy raged.

First, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled on December 19 that marriage equality would be the law of that state. The court declared that "barring individuals from marrying and depriving them of the rights, protections, and responsibilities of civil marriage solely because of their sexual orientation violates the Equal Protection Clause."

Then on December 20, Federal District Judge Robert Shelby struck down both Utah's statutes and an amendment to the Utah Constitution that had been approved by voters in 2004 banning same-sex marriage. Shelby found that the state's "prohibition on same-sex marriage conflicts with the United States Constitution's guarantees of equal protection and due process under the law."

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Shelby also interestingly noted that the lawyers opposing same-sex marriage were making arguments that were "almost identical" to those offered by opponents of interracial marriage in the 1960s -- including that each was a "threat to society." While the decision is on appeal, currently gay couples are free to marry in Utah.

And then on December 23, federal Judge Timothy Black ruled that Ohio public officials must recognize same-sex marriages when issuing death certificates. Consequently, gay couples married legally in other states would have the same rights as straight couples under Ohio law. As Black instructively noted, "The question is presented whether a state can do what the federal government cannot -- i.e., discriminate against same-sex couples ... simply because the majority of the voters don't like homosexuality (or at least didn't in 2004.) Under the Constitution of the United States, the answer is no."

Let's be honest: These court decisions are vastly more important than whether multimillionaire Phil Robertson returns to his reality TV show. And keep in mind, while A&E lifted Robertson's suspension, it also announced it would "use this moment" to air public service announcements "promoting unity, tolerance and acceptance among all people."

A&E: Star of 'Duck Dynasty' is back

Putting partisan fighting aside, marriage equality will be the law of the land in the future -- it's just a question of when. The U.S. Supreme Court in June struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. Currently, 18 states and the District of Columbia recognize marriage equality. That's up from 12 just six months ago.

And despite what some on the right will tell you, opinion polls are clear that a majority of Americans now support marriage equality. Astoundingly, adults younger than 30 support marriage equality by a whopping 81%. Indeed, the generational divide on this issue couldn't be more apparent than when you compare the views of two self-described rednecks on gays: Phil Robertson versus Honey Boo Boo. While Robertson likened gays to those who commit bestiality, the much younger Honey Boo Boo stated last year: "Ain't nothin' wrong with bein' a little gay. Everybody's a little gay."

The fact that our nation is moving to embrace marriage equality cannot come as a surprise to anyone with a sense of our country's history. We are by our nature a progressive nation -- it's one of the reasons we are an exceptional country. True, It may take a great deal of blood, sweat and tears, but we move forward. We have seen this from the fight for women's right to vote, to ending segregation, to striking down laws that banned interracial marriage.

Until the day marriage equality is recognized, we can expect to see a vibrant, healthy -- and hopefully respectful -- debate on this issue. And that is something we should treasure, because that, too, is one of the reasons our nation is exceptional.