Supreme Court to hear two cases on gay marriage

Breaking: The Supreme Court has agreed to hear two cases concerning marriage equality, one challenging the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 and the other, from New York, challenges the Defense of Marriage Act.

The New York Times reports:

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.

A federal judge in San Francisco agreed, issuing a broad decision that said the Constitution required the state to allow same-sex couples to marry. The decision has been stayed.

The second case is from New York:

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.

Category : The Lead

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4 Comments
  1. E B

    The Supremes’ decision to grant cert in these cases offers a wonderful opportunity for TEC and the dioceses to file amicus briefs and clarify the misperception that persons of faith must, by definition, oppose marriage equality.

    Notably, several faith communities filed such pleadings in Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court cash which struck down anti-miscegnation laws nationwide. In that instance, Ms. Loving and her husband were actually awakened in the night and arrested, in Ms. Loving’s words, “for marrying the wrong kind of person.”

    Among the faith communities that filed amicus briefs in the case were the United Presbyterian Church which noted that it did not condemn or prohibit interracial marriages, saying it found, “no theological grounds for condemning or prohibiting marriage between consenting adults merely because of racial origin”. Similarly, the Unitarian Universalist Association declared that, “laws which prohibit, inhibit or hamper marriage or cohabitation between persons because of different races, religions, or national origins should be nullified or repealed.” Prior to the Court’s ruling, the Roman Catholic church also weighed in against the anti-miscegnation laws.

    Were that national church to file in this case, it would not need to ignore that fact that some in the church hold differing views on marriage equality, not should it ignore this fact. Indeed, good pleadings address these sorts of issues upfront.

    But I think we can say that TEC:

    – Allows all persons, regardless of sexual orientation, to participate in the life of the church

    – Permits parishes and dioceses that wish to do so to bless same-gender couples.

    – Believes that same-sex couples in committed, monogamous relationships can be faithful to the Christian life.

    Here’s hoping for a courageous, principled stance on this issue.

    Eric BOnetti

  2. Bill Dilworth

    This makes me very nervous – SCOTUS has not impressed me as a body given to making particularly wise or beneficial decisions.

  3. E B

    Hi Bill. I don’t blame you.

    Looking into my crystal ball, here are my predictions, which may be wildly wrong and worth exactly what you pay for them:

    – The New York case will be struck down. Liberal and conservative justices alike will see little reason to bar tax benefits when a person is validly married, regardless of the person’s sexual orientation.

    – Prop 8 is much trickier. That said, one of the first questions the Court appears to be looking at is, “Is there a case and controversy here?”, and “Who has standing?

    Given that the state is not contesting the outcome of the lower court case, my bet is that the court will let the precedent stand, based on procedural grounds.

    It seems among the less likely possibilities that we will get a full and complete repudiation of DOMA–although it could happen.

    Meanwhile, one of the most onerous components of DOMA, which is its restriction on the full faith and credit clause of the constitution (which would recognize the marriage contract formed in one state in any state) is not before the Court, so we likely have not heard the end of this silly and mean-spirited law.

    Advent blessings, Bill!

    Eric Bonetti

  4. Hi folks. I’m very confident that SCOTUS will do the right thing. Justice Roberts has shown in the past that he understands that the freedom to marry is a basic freedom that must be afforded to all. And let’s not forget that “Adonai judges in favor of the oppressed and gives them their rights” (and their rites!)–Psalm 103:6.

    I also thank all of you who also support the freedom to marry. My fiance and I love each other so much and want to marry and receive our church’s blessing. I’m honored and humbled to be in a church that supports the freedom to marry.

    Enrique Molina

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