Monday’s Mtg: Gay Marriage At the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on two gay marriage cases on March 26 and 27.  On Monday night, I’ll preview the legal issues before the Court, the arguments on both sides, and speculate on how the Court might rule.

The first case is U.S. v. Windsor, a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a late-1990s law that (1) declared that no state must recognize another state’s marriages of lesbian and gay couples; and (2) bars the federal government from recognizing them.  DOMA was struck down by lower federal courts and the Obama Justice Department refused to defend the law further.  Some conservative members of Congress got SCOTUS to agree to hear the case.

The other case is a challenge to California’s Proposition 8, passed by the state’s voters in 2008.  Prop. 8 banned same-sex marriage and rendered illegal thousands of them that had been performed when the practice was legal (June-November 2008 after the state’;s Supreme Court legalized it).

I’ll summarize the legal issues and arguments on Monday.  But, basically, the fate of gay marriage will turn on whether the Court rules that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right under the Constitution.  If it is, state governments could only ban it if they demonstrate that gay marriage poses a big problem to the state’s citizenry, which they won’t be able to do, so the floodgates to marriage equality will open and stay open for good.  SCOTUS may also decide to duck the bigger issues and either rule narrowly or not at all (the plaintiffs, especially in the DOMA case, may not have standing to sue).  I’ll explain conventional wisdom on the options the Court has, too.

But, legal issues aside, I hope we can have a more general discussion of the larger question of civil rights.  Just on gay marriage, why do some people oppose it so fiercely, and why is that opposition melting away so rapidly?  How did opposition to gay rights become so central to conservative philosophy?  More broadly, when does something become a “right” in America, and people’s opposition to it cease to matter?  When the public says so?  That can’t be quite right, can it?  When the courts say so is?  Same objection?  I’m sure you have other issues you want to raise, too.

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DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –

  1. What is SCOTUS being asked to rule on?  What are the arguments on  both sides?
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  2. How might the Court rule, and why?
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  3. What does the future hold for same-sex marriage if the Court rules one way versus another?  What about other gay rights being fought over, like adoption?
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  4. Why has public opinion on this issue turned around so quickly?   Are Americans faster to accept various forms of equality than they used to be?
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  5. When does something become a “right” in America, and people’s opposition to it cease to matter?  What’s the right balance between public opinion and elite opinion?  Between state’s rights and individual rights?  (Hint:  If government continues to grow more liberal on social issues and the anticipated national Democratic majority keeps growing stronger, states’ rights will animate conservatives even more.)
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  6. What are the new frontiers of equality?

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LINKS –   [heavy focus on the legal issues.]

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I hope we have a good turnout.  Tell a friend!

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