U.S. Supreme Court Hears Two Cases Relating to Same-Sex Marriage – Part 1 of 2
This month, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in two cases that directly affect the status of same-sex marriage in the nation. The first case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, is from California and involves the state’s Proposition 8. Proposition 8 was a ballot initiative which amended the state constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman, effectively prohibiting California from recognizing same-sex marriage. The named plaintiff in the case is a member of a lesbian couple who originally sued California state officials to prevent them from executing Proposition 8 (i.e. to force the state officials to recognize the lesbian couple’s same-sex marriage). The case worked its way through the hierarchy of the California court system and is now at the U.S. Supreme Court.
When brought to the U.S. Supreme Court, the attorneys for the opponents of Proposition 8 will be arguing that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which among other things guarantees all Americans equal protection under the law, prevents states from defining marriage as only between a man and a woman.
In contrast, Proposition 8’s supporters allege that the initiative merely “restored” the traditional marriage definition that they argue has been universally accepted for centuries. Proponents state that one of the overriding purposes of the definition is to ensure that children are raised in stable families by mothers and fathers.
In response, the opponents are alleging that the fundamental right of marriage has nothing to do with children and everything to do with the ability of consenting adults to enter into the government-recognized union of their choosing. In support of this argument, opponents point to the 1967 Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia. That case involved a Virginia law that prohibited interracial marriage. In Loving, the Supreme Court did find that the Virginia law violated the 14th Amendment, stating that the entire purpose behind the amendment was to end racial discrimination.
Proponents of Proposition 8 contend that the Loving case cannot rightfully be compared to the case now before the Court as there is no similar protection against sexual orientation discrimination in the 14th Amendment.
Notably, during oral argument at the Court, one of the issues likely to be debated is whether the plaintiffs have the legal right (called “standing”) to be in court at all. If the Court focuses on the issue of standing, many commentators will likely interpret that as reluctance to make a sweeping decision on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage. The reason the Court might that any decision on the merits would be “sweeping” and affect every state in the nation is because, if they strike down Proposition 8 on the aforementioned Constitutional grounds, this decision would necessarily also invalidate all similar traditional marriage definitions in all 50 states – making it mandatory that all states recognize same-sex marriage.
The Court is expected to issue its decision on the case during the summer, most likely at the end of its term. Until then, both proponents and opponents of Proposition 8 are hosting demonstrations, rallies, and participating in news conferences to defend their respective positions.
The Supreme Court’s decision in this case could drastically affect the marriage institution in the entire nation. Our office will continue to keep visitors updated on the progress of this case and this issue.
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