Hearing challenges to state laws that limit marriage to heterosexual couples, the Supreme Court indicated that it may be hesitant to strike down such laws.
NBC News reports that it is “obvious that the U.S. Supreme Court is not prepared to issue any sweeping ruling” declaring a constitutional right to gay marriage.
Pete Williams, reporting for the network, said there seemed to be “very little eagerness” on behalf of any of the justices to “embrace that broad a ruling.”
At issue in Tuesday’s argument was California’s Proposition 8, the state amendment enacted by voters in 2008 that limits marriage to heterosexuals.
Williams said that both the liberal and the conservative justices seemed wary of issuing a decision that would apply to any state outside of California.
Even if that’s the case, how will they rule on Prop 8?
It is possible that a majority of the nine justices could support a limited ruling that applies only to California, or California and several other states.
Several members of the court seemed to be struggling to find a way to limit this case only to California, possibly to strike down Prop 8 but nothing more.
One way to do that might be simply to say that the Proposition 8 proponents had no legal power to bring this (particular lawsuit) in the first place.
In any case, it’s as closely-watched as any Supreme Court decision since 2012’s landmark (and somewhat surprising) ruling to uphold Obamacare.
The justices are deciding a constitutional question – whether the Equal Protection Clause in the 14th Amendment includes a right for same-sex couples to marry.
The argument is taking place as polls indicate that public opinion shifts toward acceptance of same-sex marriage – far more so than in 2008.
It remains to be seen whether the justices will be influenced, however.
In recent years, nine states, either through court rulings, legislation, or ballot measures, have redefined marriage to include same-sex couples.
But most states have laws or constitutional provisions that do the opposite, defining marriage strictly as the union of one man and one woman.
On Wednesday the court will hear oral arguments in a related case:
A challenge to one section of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.”
The key vote could be Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion in the court’s 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas, striking down state sodomy laws.
Proposition 8 was enacted with 52 percent of the vote less than six months after the California Supreme Court ruled that a ban on same-sex marriages violated the state constitution.
Those supporting Proposition 8 say that the Constitution doesn’t mandate the traditional definition of marriage, “but neither does our Constitution condemn it.”
The Equal Protection Clause does not include a right for same-sex couples to marry, they say, and as such the law passed by voters shold be upheld.
The justices “should allow the public debate regarding marriage to continue through the democratic process, both in California and throughout the Nation.”
In their challenge to the California law, the plaintiffs said they agree with supporters of Proposition 8 “that marriage is a unique, venerable and essential institution.”
“They simply want to be a part of it – to experience the benefits the Court has described (in prior rulings) and the societal acceptance and approval that accompanies being ‘married.’”
They say supporters of traditional marriage “have never identified a single harm that they, or anyone else, would suffer as a result of allowing gay men and lesbians to marry.”
Leaning heavily on Lawrence v. Texas, Proposition 8, they argue, was enacted to stigmatize and harm gays and lesbians, not to serve any rational purpose.
A decision is not expected until June.