COLUMN: United States must defend gay marriage in Supreme Court
Now that the 9th Circuit has ruled on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, which is the referendum that passed in 2008 banning the newly established right to marry for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens, we now can get a better picture of where marriage equality issues are headed in our judicial system.
The 9th Circuit, in a 2-1 split decision, has decided Prop 8 is unconstitutional. The decision is based on the idea that once a right has been given by the state, it cannot be taken away through a public act like a referendum without a legitimate reason for doing so. The supporters of Prop 8 provided no strong reasoning for stripping this right from these U.S. citizens.
It also is based on the idea that this proposition targets a specific group of people and takes away their equal protection under the law.
Before the ruling, the major question was on how narrow or broad the decision would be. It ended up being a very narrow ruling that does not necessarily mean wide implications for other bans on marriage equality. The court did not state that marriage was a basic right for both straight and gay individuals, but spoke to the discriminatory nature of the proposition. This means that if the right to marry is given in any state within the 9th Circuit jurisdiction, it could not be taken away by this type of political maneuver.
This ruling in the end really only holds significance for the state of California. The decision was tailored to only deal with the issue in California, but the Supreme Court could take this case and use it as a tool to make a more sweeping judgment on the issue.
After the 9th Circuit’s ruling, the supporters of Prop 8 had to decide whether to have the full 9th Circuit, which is an 11-judge panel, hear the case again or to directly petition the Supreme Court to hear the case. Despite the liberal nature of this particular regional court, supporters of Prop 8 have decided to pursue the former option. Regardless of whether the full panel of judges decides to hear the case, it likely will still end up before the Supreme Court.
But it also is likely the Supreme Court will decide not to hear the case. As of right now, GLBT people are still unable to marry in California, and they probably will have to wait until the Supreme Court decides whether to hear the case. If it decides to hear the case, which only takes four of the nine judges to decide, the right to marry will be delayed even longer while the case is heard.
This case may not be the best opportunity to defeat the policies of discrimination that have been put in place across the country. The fact that it was a narrow ruling means, if the case does go all the way to the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court also could follow the narrow path with its decision. There are much more promising cases coming out of the 1st and 2nd Court of Appeals, which includes Massachusetts.
These cases are more about the Defense of Marriage Act and its constitutionality. The act states the federal government will not recognize same-sex marriages even from states that allow it. Same-sex couples will not receive the tax incentives, aid, benefits and security the federal government extends to straight couples. The spouse of a gay soldier will not get the support that a straight couple receives if the spouse is killed in action. An elderly gay couple who have worked for the government for decades will not receive the same financial protections and retirement aid — which has led to spouses left behind losing their homes and facing a lot of debt in the remaining years.
These cases could have a much broader effect on the state of marriage equality in this country, since they are federal cases that will effect the entire country. When the Supreme Court decides to hear these cases, the GLBT community and the nation as a whole can defeat this government-sponsored discrimination.
Zachary Carrel is an international studies and anthropology senior.