Will the Supreme Court Rule on Same-Sex Marriage This Term?

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

All eyes are on the Supreme Court, which, as it begins a new term on Monday, could be poised to take the final step in support of marriage equality in the coming months. Last year, the judges ruled in a 5-4 decision that the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where it is legal, overturning the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996. In the year since, there have been a string of lower court decisions that have ruled in favor of same-sex marriage — now a total of 19 states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage.

And the majority of the public is now showing support, according to the latest Gallup poll in which 55 percent approved same-sex marriage and 42 percent showed opposition — not to mention eight in 10 young adults supported marriage equality. “If there is one silver bullet you have to point to that has moved public opinion dramatically over the years, it’s folks getting to know us,” Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said to USA Today. “It’s been nearly five decades in the making.”

The country has even come a long way since Maine, Maryland, and Washington became the first states to legalize same-sex marriage via a popular vote during the November 2012 elections. In fact, Louisiana’s recent ruling to uphold the state’s ban on same-sex marriage broke a streak of 21 consecutive federal court decisions overturning bans since June 2013, according to CNN. This summer alone, Virginia, Colorado, Wisconsin, Utah, Indiana, and Florida saw judges overturning statewide bans on same-sex marriage — though several of the states are dealing with appeals and are not immediately allowing same-sex couples to marry.

Since the federal decision to overturn DOMA, though, several states have gone all the way to legalize same-sex marriage. In October 2013, after a judge denied appeals, same-sex marriage became legal in New Jersey. In November 2013, both Hawaii and Illinois jumped on board, with Gov. Neil Abercrombie approving same-sex marriage legislation and Gov. Pat Quinn signing the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act into law. They became the 15th and 16th states to legalize same-sex marriage, respectively. In December, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled to allow same-sex marriage statewide, ordering county clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to qualified same-sex couples. Oregon and Pennsylvania joined as the 18th and 19th states to legalize same-sex marriage in May of this year when their bans on same-sex marriage were ruled unconstitutional.

Currently 31 states have same-sex marriage bans, 12 of which have been overturned but are in the process of dealing with appeals. But, according to The Washington Post, the Supreme Court is receiving pressure from more than 30 states and many large corporations to “settle the issue now.” The Washington Post cited court experts as saying the justices could wait until January to act on this issue, as they will take time to decide which cases to take and have agreed to hear others already. “[It] depends on what Justice Kennedy decides to do,” said Irving L. Gornstein, director of the Georgetown Law Center’s Supreme Court Institute, to The Washington Post. “I agree with the conventional wisdom that the justice’s legacy consists of his [gay rights] decisions … and that he will be prepared to take the final step.”

While it’s still unclear whether and how the Supreme Court will rule on same-sex marriage, if we do see the same 5-4 decision we saw last year, it will be a historic moment. “If the court establishes a right to same-sex marriage . . . [it] will go down in history as one that was on the frontiers of establishing rights for gays and lesbians,” David A. Strauss, a constitutional-law scholar at the University of Chicago, said to The Washington Post. “The rough idea would be that the Roberts court would be to the rights of gays and lesbians what the Warren court was on race issues.”

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