The U.S. Supreme Court has announced it will review consolidated same-sex marriage cases this year.
The U.S. Supreme Court announced today (Friday, January 16) it will review six consolidated marriage cases from a lower court, meaning the court could soon rule on whether couples should be allowed to marry in all 50 states.
The country’s top court had previously declined in October to review whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. At that time, there was no disagreement among federal appeals courts that state bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional.
But in November, a panel of judges from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. That 2-1 decision was appealed to the Supreme Court.
Friday, the court agreed to hear six consolidated marriage cases from the Sixth Circuit.
In a news release, the national group Freedom to Marry noted that the top court could make its ruling by June. Currently, gay couples are able to marry in 36 states.
“The Supreme Court’s decision today begins what we hope will be the last chapter in our campaign to win marriage nationwide – and it’s time,” Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson stated. He said his group’s “national strategy has been to build a critical mass of marriage states and critical mass of support for ending marriage discrimination, and after a long journey and much debate, America is ready for the freedom to marry. … We will keep working hard to underscore the urgency of the Supreme Court’s bringing the country to national resolution, so that by June, all Americans share in the freedom to marry and our country stands on the right side of history.”
Both sides will now file briefs to the Supreme Court and oral arguments will be scheduled for April.
The Tennessee plaintiff couples include doctors Valeria Tanco and Sophy Jesty of Knoxville. They’re represented by Shannon Minter, legal director for the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights.
“This is an important day because it means that our family will finally have an opportunity to share our story with the court and explain how this discriminatory law hurts us each day,” Tanco, who has a young daughter with Jesty, said in a statement from NCLR. “We live in fear for ourselves and our little girl because we don’t have the same legal protections in Tennessee as other families. We are hopeful the Supreme Court will resolve this issue so we no longer need to live in fear.”
April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, of Michigan, in a recent photo with their children Nolan, left, Jacob, Rylee, and Ryanne. (Photo: National Marriage Challenge/PR Newswire)
A news release from Equality Michigan said the group is “optimistic” the justices will rule in favor of same-sex marriage, but the organization’s statement also had a serious tone.
“While it is great news that the Supreme Court will be taking up the legal matter of our freedom to marry, for many, the additional months of waiting will be excruciating, and it will sadly be too long for some facing tragic circumstances,” Equality Michigan’s message said. “This fight has been long, emotional, challenging, and it is not over yet – nor is our victory inevitable. However, we remain confident it is achievable if we can spread the message on why the freedom to marry matters in Michigan.”
In a post to Twitter, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said, “#SF is pioneer in #MarriageEquality, but more work to do. We stand ready for #MarriageMomentum to ensure all have #freedomtomarry #SCOTUS.”
In an interview, gay San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener called the court’s announcement “exciting and a little bit scary.”
“This is in some ways high stakes poker because, on the one hand, we’ve achieved such enormous success in the lower courts,” Wiener said, noting that an estimated 70 percent of the country’s population lives in states that allow same-sex marriage.
“A bad ruling by the court will undermine that severely,” he said. ” On the other hand, 30 percent of Americans live in states without marriage equality. … Without a court ruling, they’re not going to have marriage equality in the foreseeable future.”
Wiener said “it’s always dangerous to speculate” what the nine justices will do, but he said Justice Anthony Kennedy, who’s considered the swing vote on many issues “has pretty much written all the pro-LGBT Supreme Court rulings. It would really surprise me if he didn’t stand with us here. I think part of his legacy is going to be the opinions that he’s authored advancing the civil rights of the LGBT community. I’m very hopeful he’ll stand with us again.”
San Francisco resident John Lewis, who along with his husband Stuart Gaffney has been a public face for the marriage equality movement for years, said in a statement from Marriage Equality USA, “We urge the Supreme Court to affirm the near unanimous consensus of the over 55 courts who have ruled in favor of marriage equality over the last 18 months. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are part of the fabric of America. We look to the Supreme Court to recognize once and for all that we should have the same freedom to marry that all other Americans enjoy and that we should have full constitutional protections in all aspects of our lives.”
Lewis is MEUSA’s legal and policy director.
Research from the Williams Institute, based at the UCLA School of Law, suggests that there were 690,000 same-sex couples in the country in 2013, and they were raising an estimated 200,000 children.
Marriage Equality USA is organizing a community call to discuss the case and ask questions. The call starts at 6 p.m. Pacific Friday. To sign up, visit https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1_ZgjKwNHWqH1bbLQCN8GxDnihnES7Imv4Nu1ujUEnME/viewform.