Proposition 8, plus the Defense of Marriage Act, equals the U.S. Supreme Court — which will decide the future formula for legal marriage, according to the federal government after hearing oral arguments last week.
Hollingsworth v. Perry, or Proposition 8, is an amendment to the California state constitution passed in 2008 under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger overturning the state Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage.
U.S. v. Windsor is the case challenging DOMA, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996, and restricts federal marriage benefits and inter-state marriage recognition to traditional marriages only.
After hearing oral arguments over Proposition 8 last Tuesday, March 26, and for DOMA Wednesday, March 27, the court will decide whether rights including joint tax returns, inter-state marriage recognition, immigration, government insurance and Social Security survivors’ benefits — rights enjoyed by traditional marriages — will apply to same-sex marriages.
The major defense in both cases according to various civil rights groups, the Obama administration, and a growing number of Republican Congress members is that both laws violate the 14th Amendment’s “Equal Protection Clause,” requiring states to provide equal protection under the law to all citizens within their jurisdiction.
Advocates state under the clause both laws should be declared unconstitutional. The eventual court decisions will likely advance same-sex marriage on these grounds, but how far is open to speculation.
With the current court makeup of four conservative justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, and four liberal justices, historical swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy will likely play an important role in the majority decision handed down by the court.
Though no stranger to leaning left on previous court cases, including authoring the Lawrence v. Texas decision striking down state laws banning sodomy, Kennedy is a staunch supporter of the legal right and precedence of the states to govern — a factor to take into account with the Prop. 8 decision.
“You think Congress can use its powers to supersede the traditional authority and prerogative of the states to regulate marriage in all respects? Congress could have a uniform definition of marriage that includes age, consanguinity, etc.? Well, I think it is a DOMA problem. The question is whether or not the federal government, under our federalism scheme, has the authority to regulate marriage,” Kennedy said during the DOMA hearing last Wednesday.
“But when it has 1,100 laws, which in our society means that the federal government is intertwined with the citizens’ day-to-day life, you are at the real risk of running in conflict with what has always been thought to be the essence of the state police power, which is to regulate marriage, divorce, custody,” Kennedy said.
In early March, the Washington Post published an op-ed by former President Bill Clinton, calling on the court to make a change.
“On March 27, DOMA will come before the Supreme Court, and the justices must decide whether it is consistent with the principles of a nation that honors freedom, equality and justice above all, and is therefore constitutional.
As the president who signed the act into law, I have come to believe that DOMA is contrary to those principles and, in fact, incompatible with our Constitution,” Clinton said.