The Supreme Court announced Friday that it will hear a pair of cases regrarding state and federal same-sex marriage laws, determining the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8 and the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.
In an order released Friday afternoon, the high court granted review of Edith Windsor's DOMA challenge and the Proposition 8 case. Oral arguments in the two cases will likely begin in March 2013 with a ruling expected in June.
First reported by SCOTUSblog, the announcement comes after weeks of delays that left many speculating which of the multiple cases surrounding marriage equality petitioned for review would be heard by the high court.
Windsor has been challenging DOMA since 2010, following the death of her wife, Thea Spyer. Windsor is suing to recoup about $363,000, federal estate tax she was forced to pay on her inheritance from Spyer. The federal government does not tax inheritances that pass from one spouse to the other, but because of DOMA the federal government has refused to recognize Windsor and Spyer's marriage. According to the ACLU, payment of the federal estate tax is one of the most damaging impacts of DOMA.
Living most of their lives in New York City's Greenwich Village, Windsor and Spyer married in Canada in May 2007, 50 years into their relationship. They were first engaged in 1967. Nevertheless, Windsor's lawyers say the government still views them as legal strangers.
Several federal courts have ruled that section 3 of DOMA unconstitutionally discriminates against same-sex couples.
The Supreme Court's decision to hear the Proposition 8 case comes after the California law was struck down by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Supporters of Proposition 8 petitioned the case after the court of appeals refused to rehear the case in June with the hope that the Supreme Court will reverse the lower court's decision and keep the amendment intact.
The appeals court ruled in February that California could not take away rights that the state had previously granted to residents. That ruling came after a U.S. district court also struck down Proposition 8 on the grounds that no state could deny same-sex couples the right to marry.
Attorneys for opponents of Proposition 8 had asked the Supreme Court not to consider the case.
Plaintiffs opposing Proposition 8, including lead attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies, argued the decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to strike down Proposition 8 does not warrant review because it does not conflict with any Supreme Court decision or any other court of appeals.
Moreover, they argued that each day gay Californians' right to marry is denied "is a day that can never be returned to them — a wrong that can never be remedied."
Had the court announced it would not hear Hollingsworth v. Perry, then the decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals against Proposition 8 would stand and same-sex marriages could have resumed in California as early as next week. Proposition 8 was approved by California voters in 2008 and amended the state's Constitution to ban same-sex marriages after the state had already granted that right to gay couples.
LGBT-rights advocates praised the high court’s picks, despite their decision to take up the Proposition 8 case.
"Today is a milestone day for equal justice under the law and for millions of loving couples who want to make a lifelong commitment through marriage," said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin in a statement. Griffin said he is confident the court will rule favorably in both cases.
In a conference call with reporters after the Supreme Court's announcement, lead attorneys for the plaintiffs in the Proposition 8 case, Olson and Boies, also expressed excitement, despite originally arguing that the court should not take up the case.
"We felt all along that this case was a perfect vehicle to decide the fundamental rights of all Americans with respect to the right to marry," said Olson, noting that their arguments against taking up the case were based on their desire to see same-sex couples in California be allowed to marry right away.
Olson also encouraged the Obama administration to take a public stand on the Proposition 8 case. Although the Obama administration has been clear in their opposition to DOMA after declaring the law unconstitutional in February 2011, the White House has refused to comment on the Proposition 8 case. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Metro Weekly.
Asked if a Supreme Court ruling in the Proposition 8 case could have an impact outside of California, Boies said a broad ruling from the Supreme Court could have an impact in states across the country.
"This is the United States Supreme Court and as we expect it will and certainly as some of the justices will probably address the fundamental merit issue of whether discrimination against gays and lesbians and the right to marry is unconstitutional under the federal constitution," Boies said. "And if they decide that, as we're confident they will if they reach that issue, our way, that would mean there would be a fundamental right to marry in every state in the country because obviously the federal constitution applies to every state in the country."
[Photo: The Supreme Court building (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).]