As it considers historic cases in June, the U.S. Supreme Court should not officially rule for or against same-sex marriage. Advocates and opponents of gay unions are weighing in with friend-of-the-court briefs and the world is watching closely. However, the highest court in the land must adhere to the constraints placed upon it by the document it is commanded to uphold and protect – the United States Constitution.
The Tenth Amendment establishes that powers not delegated to or prohibited by the U.S. in the Constitution are reserved specifically for the states. The purpose of this amendment is to define the relationship between the federal and state governments. With an ever over-reaching Federal government, the job of reconciling this unique relationship falls to the Supreme Court. The democratically-founded United States is a unique experiment in government, and even within similar versions of democracy, there is no instance of a higher court that wields as much interpretive power of the law of the land.
In the Federalist Papers, James Madison held that it was not the constitutional charge of the legislative branch of government to interfere with the powers of the states. Furthermore, it was widely accepted that the Supreme Court should then interpret legislative actions to insure the curtailing of federalism in that it inhibited the innate ability of states to serve the interests of its people. While the Court has intervened in the protection of individual civil rights, it has historically avoided the superseding of states rightful rule of law.
As recent as 2013, the Supreme Court struck down the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a 1996 law that blocked the Federal recognition of gay marriage. The DOMA act denied many federal benefits to same-sex couples including survivor benefits and family leave. The overturning of this law gave tacit approval to individual states to rule for themselves in the matter. After this ruling, the number of states that would allow same-sex marriage increased dramatically to now include 36 states plus the District of Columbia. Since the Supreme Court ruling in the United States v. Windsor, the court has refused to hear several cases challenging the few existing same-sex marriage state bans instead deferring to standing circuit ruling. With the tide already changing without its interference, there is no pressing burden for the Supreme Court to rule on the issue of same-sex marriage.
Many proponents of a gay marriage ruling by the Supreme Court cite the trend of Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRA) and the potential for discrimination against the LGBT community as cause for court intervention. However, most of the states that have passed RFRA legislation also have anti-discrimination laws on the books that match federal laws. Likewise, many of these same states also have legalized gay unions without court sanction. Ironically, Indiana, which is at the epicenter of recent deliberation has also legalized same-sex marriage.
These same proponents of Supreme Court sanction also decry the 2014 ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby and their religious right to deny certain types of contraception as judicial overreach. Critics of these proponents say that you can not it both ways. The Court will either intervene and legislate from the bench, or stay out of the way and allow the legislative branch to enact laws that the executive branch will then administer.
The phrase “equal justice under the law” is carved into the granite above the entry into the Supreme Court. The court is the final arbiter of the law and is empowered to settle disputes and administer justice. However, the Constitution was designed to solidify and preserve the union of these great states that are united to form this country. Therefore, the Supreme Court should honor the restraints of the Constitution and refrain from jeopardizing state sovereignty by ruling on or against same-sex marriage.
Opinion by Chris Marion
Photo by Jeff Kubina – Flickr License