WASHINGTON — The legal fate of marriage in the United States will be debated April 28 before the Supreme Court.
The high court announced Thursday (March 5) the date for oral arguments regarding same-sex marriage. The justices likely will issue an opinion before they adjourn this summer. If they do, gay marriage could be legal throughout the country by the end of June or states could maintain their authority to define marriage as only between a man and a woman.
Advocates on both sides of the issue recognize the significance of the Supreme Court’s decision in this case.
“This case could potentially transform the cultural landscape of America,” Russell Moore has said. Moore is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “We should pray for the court, that they will not seek to redefine marriage. And even more than that, we should pray for churches who will know how to articulate and embody a Christian vision of marriage as the one-flesh union of a man and a woman in the tumultuous years ahead.”
Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, has said gay marriage proponents hope this will be “the last chapter in our campaign to win marriage nationwide.”
Same-sex marriage is now legal in 37 states, nearly tripling the 13 states where it was legal just 18 months ago. It also is legal in the District of Columbia.
In January, the high court granted review of a November decision by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals involving challenges to laws in the states of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. A three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit, which is based in Cincinnati, was the first federal appeals court to rule states could limit marriage to the union of a man and a woman. Four other appeals courts had previously invalidated state laws that prohibited gay marriage.
In the cases the justices will consider from the Sixth Circuit, the voters of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee all approved constitutional amendments between 2004 and 2006 that limited marriage to a man and a woman.
The Supreme Court has consolidated the four cases and limited consideration to two questions: (1) Does the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution require a state “to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?” and (2) Does the 14th Amendment require a state “to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?”
The court set the time for oral arguments on the first question at 90 minutes. It allotted one hour for arguments on the second question. Normally, oral arguments in a case are only an hour in length.
Freedom to Marry filed its own friend-of-the-court brief and helped enlist signers to others that were filed Friday (March 6) with the high court. Freedom to Marry’s brief contends discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation should be considered unconstitutional and the justices should rule same-sex marriage is legal nationwide.
Among the other briefs filed in support of gay marriage, according to Freedom to Marry, were ones from nearly 2,000 religious leaders; almost 400 major corporations; more than 220 mayors, including those of the five largest American cities; and more than 300 conservatives and Republicans, as Freedom to Marry described them. The latter group includes former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former U.S. Sens. John Danforth and Larry Pressler, and former U.S. Reps. Bob Inglis and Rick Lazio.
The expansion of same-sex marriage has resulted in a growing clash between the rights of gay couples and the religious freedom of individuals and organizations. Photographers, florists, bakers and other business owners who oppose serving in support of same-sex wedding ceremonies have been penalized or are facing penalties for their refusal.