Obergefell v. Hodges
The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday is set to hears arguments over whether states may ban gay marriage. Here's six things to know:
The questions before the justices is: whether the Constitution's guarantees of due process and equal protection under the law cover a right to same-sex marriage; and, if they do not, whether states that ban same-sex marriages must recognize such unions performed elsewhere, based on the constitutional principle that states must respect the acts of other states.
After more than two decades of litigation, a decision could determine whether gay men and women have a nationwide right to marry. According to the 2010 census, 21,782 same-sex couples are living in the country, an average of 5.6 households out of every 1,000 households.
More than 70 percent of Americans now live in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage.
The petitioners are gay couples seeking to marry or to have their marriages from other states recognized. The cases arose in Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee and Kentucky. The lead petitioner is James Obergefell, who wanted his home state of Ohio, which bans gay marriage, to recognize his Maryland marriage to John Arthur as Arthur was dying from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Obergefell sought to have his name on Arthur’s death certificate as surviving spouse.
Lower court ruling
The Cincinnati-based U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit said lower courts were bound by a 1972 Supreme Court decision, Baker v. Nelson, that rejected a same-sex couple’s marriage claim. The 6th Circuit said any societal change on marriage rights would better come from legislatures and the political process rather than the courts. All the other federal regional appeals courts with recent decisions on the matter have ruled the opposite way and struck down bans on gay marriage.
The following lawyers are representing the various parties involved in the court case:
Douglas Hallward-Driemeier*, a former assistant U.S. solicitor general now in private practice
Joseph Whalen, a Tennessee associate solicitor general
*Have previously argued before the Supreme Court
Supreme Court line-up
The nine justices have divided narrowly on gay rights dilemmas. In the most recent case, U.S. v. Windsor in 2013, the justices split 5-4 as they rejected a law defining marriage as between only a man and woman for purposes of federal benefits. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is in the conservative camp but has taken the lead on gay rights, voted with the four liberals and wrote the opinion for the court.
Sources: The Williams Institute, University of California; Lambda Legal; Human Rights Campaign; Reuters
Graphics by Jane Pong, Stephen Culp, Matthew Weber and Maryanne Murray | Last updated: 13 February, 2015