While this is the first time the high court has agreed to look at the constitutionality of multiple state gay marriage bans, this is not the court’s first opportunity.
Following five circuit court decisions that found state marriage bans to be unconstitutional, the justices opted against reviewing these decisions in October, paving the way for same-sex marriage legality in a majority of the states — including North Carolina.
Maxine Eichner, a UNC law professor, said the Supreme Court is now faced with two questions — whether the U.S. Constitution requires states to allow same-sex marriages and whether it requires states to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.
“It’s hard to imagine that they would have taken the case without the idea of making a broad ruling at this point,” she said.
Eichner said the decision to take up these cases represents a dramatic change from their decision not to issue a federal ruling on same-sex marriage in U.S. v. Windsor — the 2013 case that struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
“We are in a very different point now with the majority of states allowing same-sex marriage,” she said. “It’s interesting that they are ready to move forward now when they weren’t ready just a year and a half ago.”
Mike Meno, spokesman for the N.C. American Civil Liberties Union, said the Supreme Court’s decision to take up the issue was likely a result of the 6th Circuit court ruling that upheld gay marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.
“Typically when all of the appeals courts rule the same way and the Supreme Court decides to not take up the case, most court observers interpret that as the court being comfortable with the rulings,” he said. “The fact that the court is taking this case, the first to uphold a marriage ban, many people are seeing that as a signal that the court is finally ready to hand down a 50-state ruling that will hand down the constitutional right to marry the one you love.”
Still, some groups continue to question the court and its ability to issue an impartial ruling.
The American Family Association, a right-leaning think tank, stated that Supreme Court Justices Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg should recuse themselves from issuing a decision because they have conducted same-sex marriages.
“Both of these justices’ personal and private actions that actively endorse gay marriage clearly indicate how they would vote on same-sex marriage cases before the Supreme Court,” said AFA President Tim Wildmon in a statement.
But Meno said he remains hopeful about the potential outcome at the Supreme Court, which will hand down a decision in the case by late June.
“What we’ve witnessed is really a transformation in the way the country views not only same-sex couples, but also the families they raise together and the rights that they deserve under the law,” he said. “It will be a fantastic day when we get that 50-state ruling handed down by the court.”