The US Supreme Court is now facing its most polarizing issue since Roe v. Wade in 1973, and once again that issue is one driven as much by religion and morality as it is by the tenets of the Constitution.
Same-sex marriage has been embraced as a legal right by nine states and the District of Columbia as well as a dozen other states that recognize and confer benefits to same-sex civil unions, but the rest of the states have passed laws banning marriage for same-sex couples – including the bellwether state of California.
Although states may elect to legislate on such topics as individual sovereign entities, it is the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that stipulates that marriage is federally recognized as the union between a man and a woman. This is significant because it pertains to the federal benefits that are made available to married same-sex couples.
The Supreme Court will consider Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage, as well as DOMA. Prior to the Court’s hearing, many legal pundits were confident that the Justices would rule in favor of same-sex marriage due to their individual political leanings and how they’ve ruled on various matters in the past; however, such predictions have proven difficult to make regarding such a galvanizing issue – and one that could change the face of America.
It’s easy for laypeople to view the question of same-sex marriage with a very broad lens, which leads to generalized opinions about extremely complex concepts like equality and morality. Is gay marriage right? Will legally recognizing gay marriage compromise the integrity of America’s family values? The reality for Supreme Court Justices, however, is that they must analyze these opinions within the context of the law – a fact that is quickly and easily consumed by people’s more immediate personal concerns for how the issue will impact their lives.
And, that’s a reasonable response – but one that must be balanced with the understanding that these laws shape everyone’s lives, not just those who stand on one side or the other.