Just in time for Pride: The Supreme Court takes on marriage

By Megan Petersen ’15Copy Editor

You’d have to have been comatose to have missed it. The Human Rights Campaign’s red equal signs all over Facebook. The headlines quoting every sarcastic quip that rolled off of Antonin Scalia’s tongue. The photographs of the clever (and not so clever) picketers’ signs in Washington, D.C. The myriad interviews and pictures of Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi absolutely everywhere…

Even with “GAYpril,” a pride month at many college campuses, just around the corner, those who love and support GLBTQQI rights were hardly celebratory—at least not yet. Any celebrations, if they come at all, will have to wait until early this summer. That’s when the Supreme Court is expected to hand down its decisions on what are expected to be two landmark cases regarding marriage rights for non-heterosexual couples: Hollingsworth v. Perry, otherwise known as the Proposition 8 case, and United States v. Windsor, which deals with the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

How the court will rule on these issues is essentially anyone’s guess. Generally speaking, the court could overturn or uphold a lower court’s ruling, remand and send the case back down to a lower court for more proceedings, or the court could rule that the plaintiffs don’t have standing to sue—that is, that they haven’t been harmed in such a way that a favorable ruling would bring sufficient recourse—and will refuse to go further.

Even more important than the official decision will be the written opinions of the court. These documents detail the court’s logic behind its decision, and often determine whether a decision will be limited to its specific context or will have far-reaching effects. For example, if the Court upholds the California Supreme Court’s ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional, whichever justice writes the opinion of the court could argue that the ruling applies to any state with a ban on gay marriage, only to states that have already approved gay marriage within their borders, or only to California.

However, many analysts are more concerned about standing, particularly in the Prop 8 case, than about any other rulings the court might dole out. If the court rules that those suing can’t achieve legal resource under the law, the court would dismiss the case without any further ruling.

What would a non-ruling look like on Prop 8? Potentially not much different than it does now, which, arguably, would look like a loss for many same sex marriage proponents.

However, there are those who don’t see “marriage equality” as progress. Given the inherently patriarchal and oppressive history of marriage, particularly in the Judeo-Christian cultural norms that shape mainstream American society, is confining same sex relations to such a mold necessarily a good thing?

Some critics of same sex marriage argue that state-sanctioned marriage itself is discriminatory, since so many rights are given to couples that are not afforded single people or those in other kinds of relationships. Arguably, it would be more progressive to abolish state-sanctioned marriage altogether.

These, of course, are not the questions that the Supreme Court is grappling with, and any thoughts on rulings are merely speculative. It’s doubtful that the excitement will die down, though, so stay tuned.

Happy pride month, all!