Monday, December 10, 2012
Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Same-Sex Marriage Cases
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
The United States Supreme Court will take up California’s ban on same-sex marriage, a case that could give the justices the chance to rule on whether gay Americans have the same constitutional right to marry as heterosexuals.
The justices said Friday they will review the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling in Perry v. Brown, which struck down the state’s gay marriage ban, though on narrow grounds. The San Francisco-based appeals court said the state could not take away the same-sex marriage right that had been granted by California’s Supreme Court.
The court will also decide whether Congress can deprive legally married gay couples of federal benefits otherwise available to married people. A provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, also known by its acronym DOMA, limits a range of health and pension benefits, as well as favorable tax treatment, to heterosexual couples.
The justices made the announcement after meeting behind closed doors. They did not say which justices voted to hear the appeals.
Reactions to the announcement were swift.
“We are delighted that the nation’s highest court will decide whether to uphold the will of more than seven million Californians who voted to preserve the unique definition of marriage as only between one man and one woman,” Andy Pugno, general counsel for ProtectMarriage.com, said in a press release issued by the organization Friday.
Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, had her own take on the ruling:
“Both the federal DOMA and California’s Proposition 8 serve only one purpose: to harm and stigmatize same-sex couples and their children. … We are confident the Supreme Court will strike down DOMA once and for all next year, and, after four long years, will finally erase the stain of Proposition 8 and restore marriage equality to California couples.”
California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who—like her predecessor, now-Gov. Jerry Brown, has refused to defend Proposition 8 in court—said in a release:
“Today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to consider marriage equality takes our nation one step closer to realizing the American ideal of equal protection under the law for all people....For justice to prevail, Proposition 8 must be invalidated so that gay and lesbian families are finally treated with equality and dignity.”
Legal in Washington
Voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington approved same-sex marriage last month. Washington’s law went into effect Thursday, making it the seventh state in which such unions are legal. The others are Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont.
But 31 states have amended their constitutions to prohibit same-sex marriage. North Carolina was the most recent example in May.
In Minnesota earlier this month, voters defeated a proposal to enshrine a ban on gay marriage in that state’s constitution.
The biggest potential issue before the justices comes in the dispute over Proposition 8, which California voters adopted in 2008 after the state Supreme Court ruled that gay Californians could marry. The case could allow the justices to decide whether the United States Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection means that the right to marriage cannot be limited to heterosexuals.
A decision in favor of gay marriage could set a national rule and overturn every state constitutional provision and law banning same-sex marriages. A ruling upholding California’s ban would be a setback for gay marriage proponents in the nation’s largest state, although it would leave open the state-by-state effort to allow gays and lesbians to marry.
In striking down Proposition 8, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals crafted a narrow ruling that said because gay Californians already had been given the right to marry, the state could not later take it away. The ruling studiously avoided any sweeping pronouncements.
The larger constitutional issue almost certainly will be presented to the court, but the justices would not necessarily have to rule on it.
The other issue the high court will take on involves Sec. 3 of DOMA, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman for the purpose of deciding who can receive a range of federal benefits.
Four federal district courts and two appeals courts have struck down the provision.
The justices chose for their review the case of 83-year-old Edith Windsor, who sued to challenge a $363,000 federal estate tax bill after her partner of 44 years died in 2009.
Windsor, who goes by Edie, married Thea Spyer in 2007 after doctors told them that Spyer, who had suffered from multiple sclerosis for many years, would not live much longer. Spyer left everything she had to Windsor.
There is no dispute that if Windsor had been married to a man, her estate tax bill would have been $0.
The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York agreed with a district judge that the provision of DOMA deprived Windsor of the constitutional guarantee of equal protection.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a statement she was hopeful that both Sec. 3 and Proposition 8 would be held unconstitutional.
“Same-sex couples live their lives like all married couples. They raise children, share finances, care for each other and love each other in good times and bad. But DOMA denies these couples more than 1,100 federal rights and benefits that other Americans enjoy. I fully expect the court will come to the same conclusion I have—that this is a violation of equal protection and must be struck down....
“I was pleased when the Ninth Circuit struck down Prop 8 in June, and I hope the Supreme Court upholds that decision and restores marriage equality to California.”
The cases will be most likely be argued in March, with decisions expected by late June.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company