Supreme Court should get off fence, use bench

By Associate Editor

Despite recent strides in marriage equality, the debate surrounding the constitutionality of same-sex marriage has been tangled up in frivolous legislative battles between federal courts that support gay marriage and hold-out states that want it banned.

Although 17 states have legalized same-sex marriage, the Supreme Court continues to avoid delivering a single declarative ruling that would put an end to the counterproductive legal battles that strain on the legal system.

Federal district courts have invalidated state amendments and statutes that banned gay marriage on a number of occasions, paving the way for gay couples in the state to marry. State governments, however, are trying to reverse these strides by calling for the Supreme Court to overturn the federal judges’ rulings.

Two recent Supreme Court rulings on the subject of gay marriage prove the court is willing to hear these cases: the overturning of California’s Proposition 8, a voter-initiative that outlawed gay marriage in California, and the dispassionate dissolution of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, a piece of legislation that kept the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage. While these rulings show progress, they do not address the issue of marriage inequity.

Utah couples were issued marriage licenses following a Dec. 20 pro-gay marriage ruling, despite the state’s traditionally conservative legislature. A Jan. 6 edict issued by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, however, immediately halted distribution of marriage licenses and authorized Utah’s governor to end the 16-day window that allowed Utah couples to marry.

Sotomayor’s actions are not only indicative of an overly cautious court but also of a weak-willed, politically motivated bench that chooses to ignore a polarized issue that impacts the nation as a whole, particularly the LGBTQ population. More than 1,300 Utah couples received marriage licenses during those 16 days, only for Utah’s governor to annul them at the state level following Sotomayor’s ruling. U.S.

Attorney General Eric Holder affirmed the validity of the marriages on the federal level, likely in an attempt to showcase the Obama administration’s stance, but it did little to resolve the situation in Utah where those couples’ marriages now mean nothing to their state government.

The Supreme Court needs to abandon its states’ rights position on gay marriage because the state-by-state approach has proven to be chaotic and impractical, as evidenced by the situation in Utah. Lower federal court judges are acting as judicial activists using the Supremacy Clause, a federal statute that gives legal preference to the national government in disputes, as a tool to trump state-level bans on gay-marriage. While it may be admirable, the approach lacks the authority that a ruling from the Supreme Court would carry, which would end the states’ bigoted policies.

The Supreme Court can’t ignore the issue forever. LGBTQ couples in states with longstanding heteronormative marriage laws are filing lawsuits, riding on the coattails of the increased level of scrutiny the issue is garnering. In Florida, six couples have filed a suit seeking the overturn of the state’s gay marriage ban. Eight couples in Arizona filed a lawsuit Jan. 6, also seeking to change the state’s definition of marriage.

Even states with a history of opposition to gay marriage are experiencing instances of judicial activism. In Ohio, a Dec. 23 ruling created a legal paradox. Rather than acknowledge gay couples with marriage licenses from other states while they are alive, the district court ruled that a couple’s relationship would only be acknowledged on a deceased partner’s death certificate. The irony is palpable considering the legalities associated with the claim to shared assets are a leading motivator for gay couples who want to marry.

While some may advocate for a national law or constitutional amendment that would grant same-sex marriage on a national scale, history has shown that policy is severely lacking in regards to social advancement. It was a 1967 Supreme Court ruling, Loving v. Virginia, that nationally legalized interracial marriage during a time when the idea was less popular. The current justices need to adopt a similarly effective strategy.

The current political state of Congress indicates policy-driven marriage equality is less likely to prevail, given the GOP-controlled House and Congressman Tim Huelskamp’s Federal Marriage Protection Amendment, a measure that loses its ground in the Democrat-controlled Senate and with the Obama administration, creating a stalemate.

A Supreme Court ruling would eliminate the pointless debates that are taking place in various district courts. It is irresponsible and cruel of the court to withhold one singular ruling that would prevent its docket from overflowing with similar cases, and it victimizes LGBTQ families who are being used as legal pawns in the system.