Marriage equality and the Supreme Court

David Cole reminds us that the upcoming Supreme Court cases on same-sex marriage are important, but nevertheless remain just a part of a much longer, inevitable march towards full marriage equality:

Whatever the Court does will affect gay marriage only in the short term. The political tide has turned decisively in the direction of marriage equality, and nothing the Court does can stop it. Polls show that two-thirds of Americans today support recognition of gay marriage or civil unions for gay couples, and young people favor marriage equality by especially large margins. In the 2012 elections, marriage equality proponents prevailed in all four states where gay marriage was on the ballot, and President Obama’s announcement in May that he had (finally) decided to support gay marriage appears to have cost him no votes. The statistician Nate Silver has predicted, based on state-by-state demographic poll results, that by 2016, the only states that do not have a solid majority in favor of gay marriage will be in the Deep South, and that by 2024, a majority will support gay marriage even in Mississippi, which he predicts will be the longest hold-out. Gay marriage is an inevitability.

But if the Court’s decisions in the gay marriage cases may not have lasting consequences for gay marriage, they are likely to have historic significance for the legacy of the Roberts Court. If it upholds the laws at issue, its decisions will almost certainly come to be viewed as the Plessy v. Ferguson of the twenty-first century, defending and reinforcing a deeply discriminatory practice without good constitutional reason. If, by contrast, the Court rules, as it should, that marriage equality is constitutionally required, its decisions will be celebrated in the history books alongside Brown v. Board of Education. Which side would you want to be on?

Supreme Court to Hear Prop 8, DOMA case

Photo by: J. Emilio Flores for the New York Times

Photo by: J. Emilio Flores for the New York Times

SCOTUSblog is reporting that the Supreme Court has granted certiorari to both Hollingsworth v. Perry, the California Proposition 8 case, and United States v. Windsor, a Defense of Marriage Act challenge. The Court will hear arguments in the two cases when it reconvenes in 2013.

Lyle Denniston has a preliminary breakdown of the order on SCOTUSblog’s live blog:

Prop. 8 is granted on the petition question — whether 14th Am. bars Calif. from defining marriage in traditional way. Plus an added question: Whether the backers of Prop.. 8 have standing in the case under Art. III.

[With regards to United States v. Windsor]: In addition to the petition question — whether Sec. 3 of DOMA violates equal protection under 5th Amendment, there are two other questions: does the fact that government agreed with the [Second Circuit] decision deprive the Court of jurisdiction to hear and decide the case, and whether BLAG (House GOP leaders) has Art. III standing in this case.

There is a good deal of complexity in the marriage orders, but the bottom line is this: the Court has offered to rule on Prop. 8 and on DOMA Section 3, but it also has given itself a way not to decide either case. That probably depends upon how eager the Justices are to get to the merits; if they are having trouble getting to 5 [justices] on the merits, they may just opt out through one of the procedural devices they have offered up as potentials.

More coverage of this development can be found here, here, here and here.