Within the next few weeks, the United States Supreme Court will decide on the most groundbreaking civil rights issue of our generation. The case, Obergefell v. Hodges (argued April 28), will determine if same-sex marriage is a constitutional right. If the decision goes as we hope it will, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender couples in all 50 states will finally get the chance to have their love legally recognized and enjoy the same benefits and opportunities as heterosexual couples.
Here’s a look at the historic debate and what the Supreme Court’s decision could mean for same-sex couples and their families.
WHAT IS OBERGEFELL v. HODGES?
The first marriage equality case to reach the federal level, it is named for Human Rights Campaign (HRC) member Jim Obergefell. In 2013 he and his 20-year partner, who was dying of ALS, tied the knot in Maryland only to have the marriage not recognized in their home state of Ohio. The case is actually a consolidation of six cases representing plaintiffs from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
THE CASE FOCUSES ON TWO MAIN QUESTIONS:
1. Are states obligated to perform and recognize same-sex marriages?
2. Are states required to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states?
WHAT IS THE PLAINTIFF’S ARGUMENT?
It focuses on the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause and its mandate that no state shall "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." The plaintiffs also argue that marriage is more than just procreation but that it is a fundamental human right and that equality will do nothing to undermine straight marriages. In fact, studies have even shown that children of same-sex parents fare just as well as children of different-sex parents.
WHAT IS THE STATE’S ARGUMENT?
The states argue that gay marriage would fundamentally undermine the institution of marriage, which has been the status quo since the Stone Age (give or take a few thousand years). Unintended consequences could arise, or at least that is the fear. States, such as Ohio, also argue that their voters enacted gay marriage bans and therefore it is up to them, not a court, to abolish them.
WHAT IS THE POTENTIAL OUTCOME?
Right now, same-sex marriage is legal in 37 states. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, then gay marriage would become legal in the 13 states that currently ban it. The consensus among legal experts is that it’s unlikely the Supreme Court will rule against this case. If that hunch prevails, then marriage equality will once and for all become the law of the land in all 50 states. However, the court could take a finer approach, ruling that states are not obliged to perform same-sex marriages but must recognize same-sex marriages done in other states.
WHAT WOULD CHANGE FOR SAME-SEX COUPLES?
There is a seemingly endless list of challenges for couples in states that do not legally recognize their unions. Adoption, social security, tax benefits, and next-of-kin arrangements are just a few basic rights not extended to same-sex couples. Employers feel the strain, too, as inconsistent laws make them unable to grant equal benefits if their state doesn’t recognize their employees’ marriages.
WHEN WILL A DECISION BE MADE?
The Supreme Court could issue its decision at any time. Most likely, though, it will be announced toward the end of the Court’s current term in late June or early July.
HOW CAN I SHOW SUPPORT?
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization. Check out their site for the latest news and analysis of the Supreme Court’s progress. Then add your voice to their "Love Can’t Wait" petition to show your support moving forward, because even with a win, there will still be more work ahead.