This Tuesday, the Supreme Court is set to begin hearing Obergefell v. Hodges, the first marriage equality case to reach the federal level. For gay, lesbian and transgender couples that have been in limbo about the legal status of their relationship, this is an historic moment. Marriage is a basic civil right in our country, and letting everyone enjoy it equally has drawn widespread popular support for a while now. Here’s the breakdown of the issue, and what to expect over the next few months.
It’s been nearly two years since the U.S. Supreme Court's 2013 decision in U.S. v. Windsor overturned federal laws preventing same-sex marriages. When the power to grant gay marriages fell to the states, it triggered a landslide of cases against states that blocked same-sex marriages— a wide majority of which decided in favor of marriage equality. Now, a majority of U.S. states allow same-sex marriage. The volume of these cases and decisions, amicus briefs from employers and organizations calling for a federal decision, and broad public support for same-sex marriage, all pointed to an inevitable Supreme Court decision. It was just a question of when.
Human Rights Campaign (HRC) member Jim Obergefell’s 20-year partner was confined to a hospital bed at home when the 2013 Windsor decision was made. The Cincinnati, OH couple rushed to Baltimore, MD on a medical jet for a quick ceremony. And when their marriage wasn’t recognized in Ohio, their case was joined by civil rights attorneys, the ACLU and Lamba Legal, helping to push it all the way to the Supreme Court. While it's Obergefell’s name on the docket, the case represents plaintiffs from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.
What the Supreme Court will be discussing:
The Supreme Court will take up two core questions. The first is if states are obligated to perform and recognize same-sex marriages. The second is whether states have the responsibility to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
What’s at stake:
Couples that live in states that don’t allow same-sex marriages face numerous challenges. From being blocked for adoptions, to losing out on social security and tax benefits or next of kin arrangements, there’s a huge spectrum of difficulties that hurt couples whose states won’t legally recognize their unions. And for employers, the patchwork of state-by-state same-sex marriage rulings causes huge administrative headaches, which are just a few of the setbacks of operating in a state that won’t recognize their employees’ marriages.
When will we see a decision?
The court could issue a decision at any time. But folks in the know suggest that it’s more likely to happen toward the end of the court's current term, around late June or early July.
What are the possible outcomes?
The best possible result here is that the court will decide on a constitutional right to marry, regardless of gender, obligating states to perform same-sex marriage, making marriage equality a federal law for all 50 states. There’s also the possibility that the court takes a finer approach, deciding that while states are not obligated to perform same-sex marriages, they are required to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. Either way, according to the HRC, the vast majority of credible legal analysts think it's highly unlikely the Supreme Court will rule against the same-sex plaintiffs in this case.
How can I help and show support?
Click over to the HRC for an in-depth look at the latest news and analysis of the Supreme Court’s progress. On Monday, supporters of same-sex marriage in Washington, D.C. and around the world will be rallying, and you can join in here. Lastly, click here to sign the HRC’s Love Can’t Wait petition, and add your voice to the national call to bring a final, federal ruling in support of same-sex marriage everywhere.