This week, the Supreme Court will hear two landmark cases that have the potential to shape the future of America and LGBTQ rights around the globe. On Tuesday, March 26, 2013, the court will hear a case on the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, which, when approved by voters in 2008, amended the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. The following day, the court will hear a case challenging part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which, when signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996, prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages in states where they are legal.
The ongoing and hard-fought debate over gay marriage surfaces a myriad of different issues ranging from human rights and religious freedom to the role of the state and federal governments. This week, the Supreme Court has the power to change the dialogue of this debate for good, potentially altering the course of American history and attitudes towards LGBTQ individuals the world over.
Here, we take a look at exactly what’s at stake in this week’s two historic cases.
Prop 8 & Hollingsworth v. Perry
About Prop 8: As the second state to legalize gay marriage, California presided over the weddings of 18,000 couples before Proposition 8 went on the ballot in 2008. When Prop 8 passed with 52% of the popular vote, the state constitution was amended to ban same-sex marriages. “Only marriage between a man and a woman,” the amendment states, “is valid or recognized in California.”
The case: In 2010, in the case Perry v. Schwarzenegger, a federal judge in San Francisco declared Proposition 8 unconstitutional, ruling that it violated both the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the ruling in 2012. Proponents of Proposition 8 then filed a case petitioning the Supreme Court to review the case. On Tuesday, March 26, 2013, the court is scheduled to hear Hollingsworth v. Perry.
What’s at stake: The Supreme Court will ultimately be deciding whether California’s Proposition 8 violates the Equal Protection clause of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which states that “no state shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
How the ruling could go :
1.) The Supreme Court could uphold Proposition 8, meaning that states would be free to allow or ban same-sex marriage.
2.) The Supreme Court could decide that supporters of Proposition 8 lack standing to appeal, and same-sex marriages in California would resume.
3.) The Supreme Court could strike down Proposition 8 on grounds that:
- All bans on same-sex marriage violate the Constitution, meaning all laws prohibiting same-sex marriage around the nation fall.
- California was not free to provide same-sex couples with all the benefits and burdens of marriage through civil unions but withhold the designation “marriage.” This means that bans on same-sex marriage in the eight states with everything-but-marriage civil unions are unconstitutional (as recommended by President Obama).
- California was not entitled to withdraw a right to same-sex marriage once it had been established by the California Supreme Court. This means that California would allow same-sex marriage but bans in other states would survive.