Feeling confused about the Supreme Court cases on same-sex marriage? We get it! These conversations can be tough to understand. That’s why our intern Tim wrote a brief overview of the two cases, their history, and what their outcomes from SCOTUS could mean for us in a few short weeks. It’s long, but worth the read! See below:
Later this month, the Supreme Court will announce announce rulings on two cases concerning same-sex marriage. Although both cases deal with same-sex marriage, one case, Windsor v U.S., specifically concerns the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), while the other case, Hollingsworth v Perry, concerns California’s Proposition 8. With two high profile cases being heard in the same cycle by the Supreme Court, there could very soon be a monumental ruling on the constitutionally of same-sex marriage.
Many consider President Obama’s public support for same-sex marriage to be a monumental event because he became the first sitting President to support same-sex marriage. The President, however, also stated his belief same-sex marriage was something to be decided by each state. Currently, same-sex marriage is legally recognized in twelve states and the District of Columbia. Most other states have passed legislation restricting marriage to a union between one male and one female.
The relationship between the states and federal government on marriage equality is complex. Prior to 1996, any marriage recognized at the state level was also recognized by the federal government. However, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was signed into law in 1996. The law defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman at the federal level and prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. The constitutionality of DOMA was immediately challenged in the federal court system, resulting in the Supreme Court hearing the case in March. The most notable ban on same-sex marriage was passed by California in 2008. Termed Proposition 8, or Prop 8, the law defined marriage as the union between a man and a woman. The constitutionality of the law was immediately questioned, culminating in the Supreme Court hearing the case.
While it is impossible to predict with certainty how the Supreme Court will rule in these cases, legal scholars have offered opinions on the most likely outcomes for each case. The underlying theme experts predict will drive the court’s opinion is the majority sentiment that same-sex marriage should be decided by the states. The most likely outcome for the Windsor v United States case is that the Court rules DOMA unconstitutional, allowing each state to determine its own definition of marriage that would be recognized by the federal government.
Legal experts are far more divided on the decision the Court will render in the Proposition 8 case. It is generally agreed that the four liberal members of the court will vote to overturn Proposition 8, while the four conservative members of the Court will vote to uphold it. Therefore, experts predict Justice Anthony M. Kennedy will provide the deciding vote. While legal scholars are unsure how Justice Kennedy will vote, the growing opinion is that Kennedy will vote to uphold Proposition 8 because he has a strong belief that it would be massive overreach for the court to overturn a law passed by a state on a subject he believes is up to each state’s discretion. Since Kennedy has been friendly towards LGBT rights issues in the past, it is possible that he will seek to have the case dismissed on legal grounds. Although the dismissal of such a high-profile case on such grounds would be unprecedented, scholars believe Justice Kennedy will push for this solution because of the conflict between his personal and legal views.
Though legal experts have debated at length the potential rulings by the Supreme Court on the cases concerning same-sex marriage, it is very difficult to predict how the court will rule with so many complicated factors in play. Regardless of the eventual outcome, the rulings this June will mark a watershed moment in the passionate, nation-wide debate about same-sex marriage and LGBT rights.