The last 12 years have been something of a whirlwind for gay rights. It was only in 2003 that the first state, Massachusetts, legalized same-sex marriage. It was the same year that the Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas finally struck down sodomy laws that remained in 14 different states. Since then, same-sex marriage has been legalized in a total of 37 states.
It would appear that the number is about to grow, as the Supreme Court prepares to hear 2.5 hours of arguments on the subject on April 28. It would seem that the highest court in the land is finally prepared to issue a major ruling and answer the million dollar question: Is same-sex marriage a recognized constitutional right?
It was only two years ago that the Supreme Court struck a huge blow to same-sex marriage bans in Windsor v. United States by knocking out a huge portion of the Defense of Marriage Act, which had included a federal ban on the recognition of same-sex marriages.
The justices may not have been ready to issue a definitive ruling, then, but by all accounts, they are preparing to now.
In February, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in an interview with Bloomberg News that Americans were ready for nationwide same-sex marriage and pointed to the drastic change in the attitudes of Americans nationwide.
The change has been drastic, to say the least. In 2004, about 30 percent of Americans were reported to be in favor of same-sex marriage. This March, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that number had nearly doubled, with 59 percent of Americans being in favor of same-sex marriage.
Steven Lichtman, a professor of political science at Shippensburg University, said that he would be “absolutely shocked and astonished […] if the Court did not say that same-sex marriage must be allowed in every state.”
He also suggested that most of the votes on the Supreme Court would be fairly predictable, with the “four so-called liberals” on the court, Justices Sotomayor, Breyer, Ginsburg and Kagan, voting in favor of same-sex marriage. The three staunch conservatives, Justices Thomas, Alito and Scalia, being likely to vote against.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has written many of the Supreme Court opinions that have advanced gay rights in the last three decades, is also extremely likely to vote in favor of nationwide same-sex marriage.
While he is the notorious “swing vote” on the court, his voting record indicates a preference for individual rights, which same-sex marriage certainly falls under.
In fact, it is Chief Justice Roberts who is likely to emerge as the “swing vote.” Roberts typically votes conservatively, but has been known to make decisions politically, as well. For instance, many legal experts believe that Roberts voted to keep the Affordable Care Act intact in 2012 as a political move, so that it would not appear that the five conservatives on the court were acting solely on their own ideological viewpoints.
Regardless of the exact vote count, most legal experts and same-sex marriage advocates are optimistic that the Court will rule in favor of nationwide same-sex marriage, only 12 years after Massachusetts became the first state to do so.
With public opinion now largely in favor, acceptance of same-sex marriage is now one of the fastest social changes in U.S. history.