A pair of cases in which challenges to existing laws have made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court will inch closer to resolutions this week, with possible implications for sweeping changes to the way same-sex marriage is treated, both by the Federal government and by each State.
Beginning today, the high court will hear arguments on whether California’s Proposition 8 — a voter referendum that approved modifying the California State constitution so that only marriages between men and women would be recognized by the State — stands in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Since its passage in 2008, Proposition 8 has effectively banned same-sex marriage in California.
On Wednesday, the court will also hear arguments in a challenge to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a Federal law signed by President Bill Clinton. The DOMA defined marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman in the eyes of the Federal government.
Both cases present the potential to effect enormous changes in the way the state treats marriage.
While homosexuals in California have largely gotten around the implications of Proposition 8 through that State’s recognizing of same-sex “domestic partnerships” instead of marriage, the outcome of the Proposition 8 case still asks the high court to determine a Constitutional issue that would apply to all 50 States. The Proposition 8 case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court because the plaintiffs asked for a ruling on whether the U.S. Constitution prohibits the States from legislating that marriage can mean only the joining of a man and a woman.
The DOMA also challenges the Constitutionality of how the government recognizes marriage — at the Federal level. The case that brought a challenge to the DOMA involves a New York widow who was “married” to the same female partner for four decades, yet was not allowed, under DOMA, to claim a Federal estate tax exemption when her deceased partner’s property passed to her.
The DOMA case doesn’t address whether gays have a Constitutional right to marry; it simply asks the Supreme Court to decide whether Congress and the President have the power to withhold Federal benefits to same-sex partners that heterosexual partners receive.
Dozens of Congressmen, the Administration of President Barack Obama and the U.S. Attorney General’s office have all weighed in, asking the Supreme Court to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act. So has Clinton, who said he’s had a change of heart since signing the original legislation into law.
An opinion in both cases is expected in June.