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U.S. justices take up gay marriage for the first time

WASHINGTON -- America's top court takes up the delicate and divisive issue of gay marriage on Tuesday when the nine Supreme Court justices consider the legality of a California ballot initiative that limits marriage to opposite-sex couples.

Tuesday will be the first of two days of oral arguments on the issue. On Wednesday, the court will consider the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which limits the definition of marriage to opposite-sex couples.

Rulings in both cases are expected by the end of June.

In what is scheduled to be about three hours of deliberations with lawyers over the two days, the justices will have their say on what gay activists see as a key civil rights issue reminiscent of famous Supreme Court cases of the past, including Loving v. Virginia, a 1967 case in which the court invalidated bans on interracial marriage.

The cases come before the high court at a time when more states have legalized gay marriage. Last year three more - Maryland, Maine and Washington - did so, bringing the total to nine plus the District of Columbia.

"Never before in our history has a major civil rights issue landed on the doorstep of the Supreme Court with this wave of public support," said Theodore Boutrous, a lawyer for opponents of the California intitiative, which is known as Proposition 8.

Strong opposition to gay marriage still exists, however, both among Republicans in Congress and in many states across the nation. A total of 30 states, including California, have constitutional amendments that ban gay marriage. Nine states, including California, recognize civil unions or domestic partnerships among same-sex couples.

Advocates for both sides plan to demonstrate outside the multi-columned Washington courthouse. Those who plan to attend include Chief Justice John Roberts' cousin Jean Podrasky, a lesbian from California who would like to marry her partner.

"There's no fundamental right to same sex marriage in the U.S. Constitution," said Austin Nimocks, a member of the legal team arguing in support of the California law.

Some legal experts think that with the issue unsettled in the states, a majority of the justices might not be inclined to make any sweeping pronouncements on the issue as the democratic process plays out.

MULTIPLE OPTIONS

There are various ways in which they could do that as the Proposition 8 case presents the justices with multiple options.

The justices could proclaim that gay marriage bans are constitutionally unsound. They could uphold Proposition 8 as a law with a legitimate purpose that was approved by a majority of voters in California. They could also plot a middle path by striking down the law without making any broad pronouncements about whether gay marriage bans in other states that have them should be struck down.

Another way the court could rule might be viewed as an anticlimax of sorts: The justices could simply decide that it cannot rule on the merits because of the procedural complexities that brought the case to the high court.

The state of California declined to support Proposition 8 when the plaintiffs filed suit in 2009 in a federal district court in San Francisco, meaning there was no party defending the law until its proponents entered the case. The federal judge struck the law down, a ruling that was upheld by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

A Supreme Court decision concluding that the law's backers do not have legal standing to defend the law would wipe out the appeals court decision, but leave the district court decision that struck down Proposition 8 on the books.

The way the justices rule could depend in large part on the likely swing voter, Justice Anthony Kennedy. Although a conservative appointed by President Ronald Reagan, Kennedy has in the past authored two opinions that expanded gay rights.

Lawyers representing two same-sex couples in California who want to marry are hoping the justices will go big and are making the most sweeping arguments.

The counsel for Kris Perry and Sandy Stier and Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo will argue that under the U.S. Constitution's equal protection guarantee, there is a fundamental right for people to marry someone of the same sex.

Kris Perry, who has raised four children with her partner, Sandy Stier, was hopeful and optimistic.

"We have been waiting for a long time to get married," she said last week. "We are very excited to have the end in sight."

Comments

RedEric 1 year, 6 months ago

I think most gay people are born that way. That makes them God's creation. Who are we to argue. That said, I am hesitant to get the government involved as legally you can use the same arguements for polygamy, the opposite arrangement, group marriage etc. the government screws up almost everything in which it gets involved.

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Jax 1 year, 6 months ago

I agree with you about the government screwing everything up. Therefore, I believe they should just keep their incompetent noses out of the business of of two (or more) consenting adults as long as they aren't directly harming someone else.

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USTPC 1 year, 6 months ago

This whole issue would go away if the government created a simple civil union act that does not force any religion to perform the ceremony for homosexual couples if it goes against their beliefs.

Despite the huge misconception spouted by those for recognition of homosexual marriage, giving equal rights under government laws is not the issue.

The issue is forcing those who believe that homosexuality is a sin to recognize a homosexual couple as being married and/or forcing them to perform a marriage ceremony of a homosexual couple.

Call it a civil union, let them be joined under law by a justice of the peace or by a church that does not have a problem performing a civil union ceremony. Do not call it marriage and do not force any church to go against their beliefs. Simple.

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erudite 1 year, 6 months ago

Can I use the same 'force' argument in defending non-believers against believers? If I do not believe in your beliefs why should I be forced to tolerate them is the same question as if I think homosexuality is a sin why should I tolerate it.

I had to come back and edit because I just read the bright of the day.....why should I tolerate Christian scripture in a daily paper if I am not Christian? Yes, I do not have to buy it but the question is as valid as tolerating same sex unions.

People confuse marriage with children; it should be obvious to anyone living in Albany that marriage and children do not have to be in the same sentence!! So if straight marriages are defended because the intent is to marry for procreation, then same sex marriages ought to be held up in high esteem because they will not produce unwanted and uncared for children.

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USTPC 1 year, 6 months ago

Not only do you not have to buy the paper but even if you do buy the paper you do not have to read the scripture printed in the paper just like you do not have to read the comics or the editorials or the classifieds or any other part of the paper that you choose not to read.

On the other hand, if a law is passed that forces a pastor of a church that believes homosexuality is a sin against God to perform a ceremony for a homosexual couple or face discrimination charges and pay a huge fine and/or go to jail they are in effect forcing them to do something that is against their religious beliefs.

Tolerating something is different than being forced to participate by law. The only way your argument about the scripture in the paper has relevance is if a law is passed requiring every person in Albany to read said scripture or face jail time and/or a fine. If you cannot see the difference then you either choose not to or have a major reading comprehension problem.

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FryarTuk 1 year, 6 months ago

Seems to be a moderate and contemplative group on this thread. The verbal arguments will be interesting. My money is on a middle of the road decision or a negative one. With Kennedy having voted in favor of gay rights in the past you can bet the Italians are working on him overtime. Look for Scalia to produce some fireworks. It's hard to believe that he and Ginsburg are such social lovebirds when they are philosophical opposites.

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Jax 1 year, 6 months ago

"...a moderate and contemplative group on this thread." Is that a first for this site?

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Sherwood_Eagle_Alum 1 year, 6 months ago

Where are all the gay-bashers? I'm honestly impressed with the comments so far.

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MRKIA 1 year, 6 months ago

WHAT IS THE DEFINITION OF A GAY-BASHER?

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Jax 1 year, 6 months ago

It sounds a lot like a hate crime, doesn't it?

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Sherwood_Eagle_Alum 1 year, 6 months ago

A gay-basher is a homophobic person who is filled with hate.

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