The U.S. Supreme Court will take up cases challenging same-sex marriage bans in four states, once again presenting to the justices the question of a constitutional right to marry.
In an order released Friday, the nation’s highest court agreed to consolidate four cases challenging same-sex marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee and address two questions presented by the cases: Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex? Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?
Oral arguments will be scheduled, likely in April, to allot a total of 90 minutes to the first question and one hour to the second question. The briefs of petitioners are to be filed on or before 2 p.m., Friday, Feb. 27. The briefs of respondents are to be filed on or before 2 p.m., Friday, March 27. The reply briefs are to be filed on or before 2 p.m., Friday, April 17. A decision from the high court will likely be handed down in June.
The Supreme Court’s decision to take up the cases comes after a 2-1 decision handed down Nov. 6 by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld same-sex marriages bans in the four states, breaking with other federal appeals courts that have considered the issue and creating a split among the circuit courts. The Supreme Court was asked to consider all four state marriage bans by plaintiffs in the four cases. With the exception of Tennessee, all of the states defending those respective bans have agreed the court should hear the cases.
Four of the nine Supreme Court justices must vote to hear a case in order for writ of certiorari to be granted. The breakdown of those votes are not released by the court, nor the justices’ reasons for granting or denying a petition to hear a case. Earlier this week, the justices declined to take up a case challenging Louisiana’s ban on same-sex marriage before a federal appeals court has rendered judgement.
This isn’t the first time the justices have been presented with the opportunity to consider state bans on same-sex marriage. In October, the court surprised marriage-equality advocates and opponents alike when they declined to hear cases challenging same-sex marriage bans in five states — Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Indiana and Wisconsin — thus allowing lower court decisions legalizing marriage equality in those states to stand. Because the Supreme Court left intact rulings by the 4th Circuit, 7th Circuit and 10th Circuit Courts of Appeals striking down same-sex marriage bans in those five states, the appeals courts’ decisions applied to six other states in those three circuits: West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming. As a result of that action, the Supreme Court doubled the number of marriage-equality states.
In March 2013, the Supreme Court considered the issue of a constitutional right to marry in the Proposition 8 case, but later dismissed the case due to defendants’ lack of standing to bring the case. However, since the Supreme Court’s June 2013 decision in Windsor, which struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act defining marriage as between a man and a woman, federal and state courts across the country have been in near universal agreement that state bans on same-sex marriage violate the U.S. Constitution. Following the arrival of marriage equality to Florida last week, approximately 70 percent of the nation’s population — 216 million Americans — lives in one of 36 states, plus D.C., that permit same-sex marriage.
Following the announcement by the Supreme Court, outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder reaffirmed earlier statements that the Obama administration will weigh in on the cases and “file a ‘friend of the court’ brief in these cases that will urge the Supreme Court to make marriage equality a reality for all Americans.”
Holder’s full statement:
After the Justice Department’s decision not to defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, the Supreme Court sent a powerful message that Americans in same-sex marriages are entitled to equal protection and equal treatment under the law. This landmark decision marked a historic step toward equality for all American families.
The Supreme Court has announced that it will soon hear several cases raising core questions concerning the constitutionality of same-sex marriages. As these cases proceed, the Department of Justice will remain committed to ensuring that the benefits of marriage are available as broadly as possible. And we will keep striving to secure equal treatment for all members of society—regardless of sexual orientation.
As such, we expect to file a ‘friend of the court’ brief in these cases that will urge the Supreme Court to make marriage equality a reality for all Americans. It is time for our nation to take another critical step forward to ensure the fundamental equality of all Americans—no matter who they are, where they come from, or whom they love.
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