The United States Supreme Court has announced that it will hear cases concerning two different bans on same-sex marriage: The nationally sweeping Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8.
This won’t be a speedy process – estimates are for hearings in March and rulings sometime in June.
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The case challenging DOMA is that of Elizabeth Windsor, who was unable to inherit her longtime partner’s property as a wife, and thus was taxed more than $350,000 in estate taxes. Had Windsor and her partner of 40 years, Thea Spyer, been allowed to marry, Windsor’s inheritance would have been protected.
Windsor, now 83, is excited by the prospect of her case opening up rights for the LGBT community across the nation, even as she says “I just happen to be an out lesbian who is suing the United States government.”
If Windsor wins, the federal government will have to legally recognize same-sex marriage in the states that have legalized it – currently those states are in conflict with federal law.
Proposition 8, California’s gay marriage ban, was ruled unconstitutional by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last year. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Supreme Court now has three options:
1. It can reverse the 9th Circuit decision and keep Prop 8 in place, which would suggest that marriage equality would remain a state-by-state battle, with a patchwork of laws across the country. (It would also mean that California would be stuck with three classes of citizens: Straight people, who can marry whenever they want; people who want to have same-sex marriages but can’t; and the thousands of same-sex couples who got married between the legalization and the ban, but who wouldn’t be allowed to, for example, re-marry after a spouse dies.) Boo.
2. The Supremes could strike down Prop 8 only as it applies to California.
3. The Court could rule that gay marriage bans in general are unconstitutional, which would be good news for same-sex couples all over the country, and should make a lot of bigots really entertainingly mad on television. Rick Santorum, we are looking at you.
This is going to be a long one. Cross everything and keep an eye on June.