The U.S. Supreme Court will hear two days of oral argument during the last week of March on two cases regarding gay marriage. With expected June decisions, the highest court in the land appears ready — for the first time — to consider the marriage equality question: Does the U.S. Constitution provide gay and lesbian Americans equal access to civil marriage? And with that access, are gay marriages afforded the same responsibilities and benefits as their straight counterparts?
Traditional marriage provides a couple 1,138 federal rights and benefits. Gay unions are currently denied these rights and benefits This denial is at the heart of marriage equality.
Needless to say, the stakes are high with marriage equality hanging in the balance for gay couples desiring to be married in those states without legal marriage not to mention the very real possibility of invalidating same-sex marriages in those states where it is legal.
At present, nine states (Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and Washington) and the District of Columbia allow same-sex partners to legally marry, 41 states do not. Of those, 30 states have written gay marriage bans into their state constitutions.
What are the two cases the Court will consider?
California’s Propositions 8: In 2008, California voters approved a gay marriage ban after the state Supreme Court ruled that gay Californians could marry. Since then a federal appeals court struck down Proposition 8, but have not authorize the resumption of same-sex marriages pending appeal.
If the Court upholders the federal appeals court decision, gay marriage will again become legal and resume in California. While the decision will be limited to the state, it will become an important precedent for future states.
Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA): In 1996, President Clinton signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman for all federal purposes. Under the law, the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriages for any legal purpose. DOMA also grants states the authority to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages, including those that have been performed in, and recognized by, other states.
If the Court strikes down DOMA, the Supreme Court would likely hold that the federal government has no business requiring states to discriminate against certain couples.
It is very unlikely given the nature of the Proposition 8 and DOMA cases that the Court will find that the U.S Constitution provides protection for gay marriage. The cases are narrow and given the composite of the current Court, I don’t believe that it will expand its decision. Yet with that said, striking down Proposition 8 and DOMA would be a vital step toward marriage equality.
I have made my support of marriage equality very clear. The independent Catholic tradition of which I am an ordained priest does so as well. I am honored to officiate at same-sex weddings. I proudly affirm the dignity and worth of gays and lesbians believing that GLBT equality is a civil right.
Yet there is another voice for marriage equality — that of President Obama. I can’t imagine how the vision of marriage equality could have been better expressed than by the very words of the President during Monday’s Inaugural address:[blockquote type=”blockquote_quotes”]Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law. For if we are truly created equal — then surely — the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.[/blockquote]
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