The Supreme Court of the United States (“SCOTUS”) is set to decide a case that could dramatically alter the marriage law landscape for LGBTQ people. In the next two weeks the Supreme Court will rule in the Obergefell v. Hodges case (in January 2015 the Supreme Court took up freedom to marry cases from four states—Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee—merged them, held oral arguments April 28, and shortly will issue its ruling; for more, see SCOTUSblog’s coverage of the case).
I found the photo above on Facebook in 2013, after Michael Cavadias posted it in response to the LGBTQIA advocacy group Human Rights Campaign (“HRC”) #marriageequality campaign inviting people to “Picture Equality” and show their support for marriage equality by replacing their avatar or profile picture—or superimposing the equal sign on their normal profile pic—with a pink equal sign on a red background, (love + equality). Facebook, Twitter, other social media were awash in red equal signs in late March 2013.
HRC’s viral campaign, which refers back to the organization’s logo (a gold equal sign on a navy background), had a remarkable impact and a tremendous reach. Of course, people came up with fun creative parodies (Trekkies, Star Wars fans, dog lovers, bacon aficionados, matzoh munchers, etc.—I’ve included two examples at the end of this post.). HRC launched this campaign because of the Supreme Court’s review in March 2013 of two marriage equality-related cases, Edie Windsor’s challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) and the other case concerning California’s Proposition 8, a California referendum outlawing same-sex marriage there in 2008.
What’s at stake in the current decision?
This decision could mean that instead of having equal marriage rights in some states and not in others, there could be nationwide marriage equality. Same-sex couples could be recognized at the state level in every state, for tax purposes, healthcare decision-making, and inheritance determinations. At the federal level, same-sex couples join different-sex couples in gaining access to lifeline benefits like Social Security, Veterans spousal benefits, and other programs that when same-sex couples live in states not recognizing same-sex marriage, they are denied. That’s just an abbreviated review; here’s a list of the 1,138 Federal rights, benefits, and privileges that come with marriage. Of course, to really understand why marriage matters, it’s best to explore real people’s stories.
What possible rulings might the Supreme Court deliver?
The Justices of the Supreme Court could choose one of three possible outcomes with their ruling:
The Court could rule for the freedom to marry nationwide by declaring that it is unconstitutional to bar same-sex couples from marriage.
The Court could rule that non-marriage states must respect marriages legally performed elsewhere, but that those states do not need to issue marriage licenses themselves.
The Court could rule that marriage bans do not violate the Constitution and that non-marriage states do not have to respect the legal marriages of same-sex couples.
What does America say?
It should go without saying that civil rights and access to equality for a minority should never be put to a majority vote. That’s why they’re called rights (and not a popularity contest). However, it is heartening to know that the USA has seen some positive change in opinions on same-sex relationship recognition. A recent CNN poll found that “63% of Americans say that gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry and have their marriages recognized by the law as valid. That’s up from 49% in August 2010.” Still, 36% of Americans believed that there is no constitutional right to marry for same-sex couples. We await the Justices of the Supreme Court’s ruling.
If the decision is positive, if it grants equality to all American citizens, upholding the constitutional freedom to marry for all, there will still be work to be done for members of the LGBTQIA communities. If the decision is negative, a denial of equal rights to marry across all 50 states, in addition to this disappointment, there will still be work to be done. Basically, there is still a lot of work to be done.
Among the major issues facing the LGBTQIA communities are:
- the need for protection from employment discrimination,
- our transgender siblings face rampant violence and significant barriers to accessing healthcare,
- health concerns and significant disparities for all LGBTQIA people,
- economic and health disparities for LGBTQIA older adults (a host of policy issues affecting our elders),
- an epidemic of homelessness among LGBTQIA youth,
- profiling and criminalization of transgender women of color,
- higher rates of poverty than non-LGBTQIA people especially transgender folks, and
- unconscionable conditions in detention for Queer & Trans undocumented immigrants.
Links of interest
- Backgrounder on the marriage equality cases in front of SCOTUS.
- Complete archive of the amici (“friend of the court”) briefs to SCOTUS in support of freedom to marry.
- You read that right: there are 1138 federal rights, benefits, and privileges linked to marriage.
- Until Loving v. Virginia, people of different races were denied the freedom to marry in the USA.
- Stay up to date on what is happening at the Supreme Court with SCOTUSblog.
- Questions and answers on same-sex marriage.
- Why marriage matters.
- There are 13 states without marriage equality.
- Several denominations (Christian, Jewish, Muslim) & 2,000+ clergy submitted this brief in support of the freedom to marry to the Supreme Court.
- Oppose same-sex marriage on Biblical grounds? Where do you stand on these Biblical rules on marriage?
- And just for fun: