The US Supreme Court announced today that they will take under review two legal cases dealing with marriage equality in this country. In one case, the Court will determine the legality of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act — an act that the US government has decided it will stop defending because it no longer believes in its legality (and has been ruled unconstitutional by lower courts). Section 3 of DOMA deals with federal taxes due from couples in same-sex marriages. The second case will determine the legality of California’s Proposition 8, a proposition that was voted into law overturned the legalization of same-sex marriage in the State of California — and has since been ruled unconstitutional by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Needless today, it’s big news that the Court would take up either of these cases … that they have decided to take up both cases means the Court is ready to make a resounding statement about the legality of same-sex marriage in the United States of America.
The Supreme Court announced on Friday that it would enter the national debate over same-sex marriage, agreeing to hear a pair of cases challenging state and federal laws that define marriage to include only unions of a man and a woman. One of the cases, from California, could establish or reject a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Another case, from New York, challenges a federal law that requires the federal government to deny benefits to gay and lesbian couples married in states that allow such unions. The court’s move comes against the backdrop of a rapid shift in public attitudes about same-sex marriage, with recent polls indicating that a majority of Americans support allowing such unions. After last month’s elections, the number of states authorizing same-sex marriage increased by half, to nine. The court’s docket is now crowded with cases about the meaning of equality, with the new cases joining ones on affirmative action in higher education and the future of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Decisions in all of those cases are expected by June. The new California case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, No. 12-144, was filed in 2009 by Theodore B. Olson and David Boies, two lawyers who were on opposite sides in the Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore, which settled the 2000 presidential election. The suit argued that California’s voters had violated the federal Constitution the previous year when they overrode a decision of the state’s Supreme Court allowing same-sex marriages … The Supreme Court has several options in reviewing the decision. It could reverse it, leaving California’s ban on same-sex marriage in place unless voters there choose to revisit the question. It could affirm on the narrower theory, which would allow same-sex marriage in California but not require it elsewhere. Or it could address the broader question of whether the Constitution requires states to allow such marriages.
The second case the court agreed to hear, United States v. Windsor, No. 12-307, challenges a part of the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996. Section 3 of the law defines marriage as between only a man and a woman for purposes of more than 1,000 federal laws and programs. (Another part of the law, not before the court, says that states need not recognize same-sex marriages from other states.) The case concerns two New York City women, Edith Windsor and Thea Clara Spyer, who were married in 2007 in Canada. Ms. Spyer died in 2009, and Ms. Windsor inherited her property. The 1996 law did not allow the Internal Revenue Service to treat Ms. Windsor as a surviving spouse, and she faced a tax bill of some $360,000 that a spouse in an opposite-sex marriage would not have had to pay. Ms. Windsor sued, and in October the federal appeals court in New York struck down the 1996 law. The decision was the second from a federal appeals court to do so, joining one in May from a court in Boston. The New York decision was the first from a federal appeals court to say that laws treating same-sex couples differently must be subjected to heightened judicial scrutiny. The Windsor case made its way the Supreme Court unusually quickly because the parties had filed an appeal from the trial court’s decision in the case, also striking down the law, even before the appeals court had ruled … The Obama administration’s attitude toward same-sex marriage and the 1996 law has shifted over time. Until last year, the Justice Department defended the law in court, as it typically does all acts of Congress. In February 2011, though, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced that he and President Obama had concluded that the law was unconstitutional and unworthy of defense in court, though he added that the administration would continue to enforce the law. In May of this year, Mr. Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage.
OH man, this is huge. I personally believed that the US Supreme Court would NOT take up the Prop 8 case and would allow the lower court ruling that it is unconstitutional stand (I wasn’t sure if the Court would take up the DOMA case or not). That the Court is taking up both same-sex marriage cases is … interesting. On the one hand, the Court could cement its legacy and declare, once and for all, that same-sex marriage is a legal right to all US citizens. It could, on the other hand, not rule in that manner … with a SLEW of possible rulings in between. We won’t know the decisions until June of next year but the Court will hear the arguments and take their time writing their decision. Speculation will run rampant between now and then, I’m sure.
On the front of the US Supreme Court building, the following phrase is carved in marble:
Equal Justice Under Law
I have to believe that the Court will do the right thing and legalize marriage equality once and for all. It’s way to premature to know anything, and everyone will have their own opinions and hopes but the time will fly by … and we will know relatively soon what the US Supreme Court’s final ruling on same-sex marriage in the US will be. Folks, this is huge.