The supreme court is in the midst of considering a landmark hearing to decide the fate of gay marriage as we know it in this country. Can states refuse to issue marriage licenses, and are states required to recognize out-of-state marriages are the issues on the table? The arguments being made were challenging the gay-marriage ban in states Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.
While the court’s decision is based on an interpretation of states rights, arguments being made focus solely upon the social construct of the definition of marriage. Supreme Court Justice Roberts referenced previous court’s decisions saying, “You’re not seeking to join the institution, you’re seeking to change the institution.” Under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) signed by President Clinton, marriage was defined as a union between one man and one woman; however, DOMA has since been repealed, leaving the issue open to a new, more modern interpretation.
This supreme court has long been divided on the issue of gay marriage. It is clear that the social movement in this country is one towards the acceptance of personal liberties in a marital sense, but many are not do quick to accept that fate. The opponents of gay marriage are steadfast in their commitment to defend marriage in a biblical sense, notwithstanding constitutional rights. The hearings, of course, were not without controversy. Many protesters voiced their opinions on the streets outside the supreme court, and even inside the court, with one outburst shouting:
You can burn in hell, it’s an abomination of God.
One of the more interesting issues that came up during hearings is the concern of forcing clergy to conduct a ceremony which goes against their own religious views. Justice Scalia posed the question:
Is it conceivable that a minister who is authorized by the State to conduct marriage can decline to marry two men if indeed this Court holds that they have a constitutional right to marry?
The argument proceeded to infer that personal religious liberties trump the requirement of clergy to act in service to the state. This is particularly interesting due to the recent religious freedom legislation enacted in Indiana and proposed in states such as Louisiana. Although, those laws extend to the rights of business owner, it is clear that whatever the court decides and imposes as federal law will receive potential backlash from many states who harbor a strong religious freedom stance.
In the current landscape, there are 37 states which allow same-sex marriage, and 13 states with an active ban. Of those 37 states allowing same-sex marriage, 22 have been required to do so by previous federal court decisions. It is very likely that if traditionalists were to prevail in this particular case, that those states would file for appeal and seek to reinstate their ban.
At the end of the day, it seemed that liberty and personal freedoms to decide whom one marries trumped traditional arguments. As one justice pointed out, “How does withholding marriage from one group — same-sex couples — increase the value to the other group?” The supreme court is considering gay marriage and is expected to reach a decision sometime later this summer.
By Frederick Bates