This morning, Tuesday March 26, the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing two critical cases regarding whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. One case is on Proposition 8, a California law that banned same sex marriage in 2008, and the other is on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a controversial law that defined marriage as a union between a man and woman at the federal level in 1996. The arguments over same-sex marriage rights will take place over two days, with the first day focusing on Proposition 8.
Today’s arguments over Proposition 8 have included questions about whether there are any good reasons to ban same-sex couples from the institution of marriage. While the lawyers for opponents of same-sex marriage argued that the state’s interest in marriage centers on procreation, several justices responded by pointing out that not all heterosexual couples marry for the sake of reproducing. For instance, Justice Kagan noted that a man and a woman of over 55-years-old might get married despite their inability to have children.
The debate also included discussion of whether the plaintiffs in the case have legal standing to challenge the state court ruling that overturned Proposition 8. If the court decides they do not, it would essentially leave in place the state ruling that struck down the same-sex marriage ban. Other arguments include that there is already ample public debate on this issue, and the court should not stop these democratic discussions from continuing.
While the outcome of these Supreme Court hearings is still unknown, the Supreme Court potentially can establish a federal constitutional right to marry for same-sex couples, leave the decision to each state, or avoid making a direct decision by finding that the parties who filed the appeal do not have the required legal standing to do so. Whatever the court decides, their decision will have significant effects on family and matrimonial laws surrounding same-sex marriage and same-sex divorce.