Last week the Supreme Court heard arguments for and against nationwide marriage equality. Here's what was said, and what we can expect to happen next.
What Was Argued?
“On the pro-marriage equality side, [lawyer] Mary Bonauto really focused on the fact that the time has come and the Constitution does not permit states to deny same-sex couples their marriage rights,” Chase Strangio, Staff Attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT & AIDS Project told MTV News during a phone interview on May 4.
Some of the arguments Bonauto put forth, Strangio said, are that “gay and lesbian people have the same access to the fundamental rights to marry as straight people have access to, and that right is something the Court has recognized for decades in a number of different opinions.”
Bonauto also argued that denying same-sex couples the right to marry violates their equal protection rights and it discriminates against them on the basis of sexual orientation and sex.
Meanwhile, John Bursch, a former Solicitor General from Michigan, argued that marriage equality shouldn’t be the law of the land.
“[Bursch] focused on the argument that it would forever change the meaning of marriage if the Supreme Court were to accept marriage equality, and that in so doing it would send the message to children that their parents did not have a legal bond with them and that would over time have consequences,” Strangio said.
What did the Justices think of this argument? “I don’t think the Justices were particularly moved by it, although there were some questions toward Mary Bonauto from several Justices with concerns about redefining marriage,” Strangio explained. “Of course, as Mary [Bonauto] pointed out, the meaning of marriage has actually changed throughout history and the Court’s own precedent supports the idea that you have to increase access to the institution to people once excluded.”
Strangio moved on to discussing the second part of the case: “That argument really focused on the harm to same-sex couples on having a patchwork of laws. They are married and have a legally recognized family relationship with their children in some states and then they can drive across the country and that recognized status goes away.”
With the arguments over, it’s really just down to a waiting game. Strangio suspects the ruling will be announced at the end of June and we won’t know anything for certain until then. He also believes that the Supreme Court will vote for or against marriage equality on both counts as opposed to supporting it on one count and denying it on the other.
“It’s often very difficult to tell from oral arguments [what the ruling will be],” he said. “Reactions in the media and among people in the courtroom varied from incredibly optimistic to incredibly nervous.”
What if the Supreme Court does not side with the arguments for marriage equality? “That would be the end of this particular case, but the next step for marriage equality would be to continue to fight amendments in the states,” he said. “There would be recourse at the ballot in states that have Constitutional amendments. But obviously it would be a devastating loss, but we wouldn’t stop fighting until there’s marriage equality for same-sex couples in all fifty states.”