Today is a huge day in the fight for marriage equality — a fight that may finally be nearing its end. This morning, the Supreme Court began hearing arguments on whether same-sex couples are constitutionally entitled to marry nationwide. Here’s a breakdown of what’s happening:
Let’s start by acknowledging that same-sex marriage was not allowed in the United States until Massachusetts became the first state to legalize it in 2003. After that other states followed suit, and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) picked up more steam. (Refresher: DOMA gives states the right to not recognize same-sex marriages granted in other states.) And then in 2013, the Supreme Court deemed DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) unconstitutional, and ruled that the federal government must recognize same sex-marriages. Now same-sex marriage is back in front of the Supreme Court, this time dealing with whether or not states must recognize same-sex marriages that take place outside their borders. Basically the two questions up for debate are as follows:
“1) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?
2) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out of state?”
The Court hearing was made up of 32 plaintiffs — couples, widows, and even a 2-year-old child — whose six separate lawsuits against same-sex marriage bans in Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee were denied by the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. One of the cases in question is Obergefell vs. Hodges, where the plaintiff Jim Obergefell and his partner John Arthur flew to Maryland to legally get married, as Arthur was dying of ALS. After Arthur died, Obergefell sued Ohio, his state of residence, to allow his name to be on his husband’s death certificate as the surviving spouse. And now their case has made it to the Supreme Court. Simultaneously, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, and Tennessee are defending their same-sex marriage ban in court today.
The Supreme Court’s decision could take up to two months, and the court Could come up with many different options for resolution. The justices could decide that states that haven’t already legalized same-sex marriage must recognize marriage certificates from outside their state borders. Or they could decide that all marriage is a constitutional right and no state may deny that right to anyone. Since there are nine Supreme Court justices, chances are there will be varying and conflicting opinions. But the question is, will they continue to avoid coming up with a resolution, or will they finally take a huge step toward nationwide acceptance of gay rights?
According to NPR, in 1996 only 27% of public opinion polls favored legalization. Today, 37 states recognize same-sex marriage as legal, and according to a recent poll taken by The Washington Post and ABC News, “A record-high 6 in 10 Americans support same-sex marriage and a similar share say individual states should not be allowed to define marriage as only between a man and a woman.”
That’s over 60% — a dramatic shift in public opinion. As positive as those numbers are for same-sex marriage equality, the results from today’s extremely important civil rights debate isn’t up to the public — it’s up to the nine Supreme Court justices currently debating the legal future of so many people’s lives. More specifically, as many of the recent Supreme Court cases seem to be, it seems to be up to one justice in particular — Justice Anthony Kennedy — whose opinion is still not solidly known.
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