On Friday, the Supreme Court agreed to decide whether any of our 50 states can prohibit same-sex marriage. Currently, the number of states allowing same-sex marriage is 36 and the District of Columbia, and more than 70% of Americans now live in states where gay couples can marry.
A 2012 case United States v. Windsor struck down a part of the Defense of Marriage Act which barred federal benefits for same-sex couples. This decision was later used by lower courts to rule in favor of same-sex marriage, and recently the Fourth, Seventh and Tenth circuits have struck down same-sex marriage bans in many states.
In November 2014, a Sixth Circuit court upheld bans on same-sex marriage in four states (Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee). By upholding a marriage ban, the Sixth Circuit created a split among the federal appeals courts. A circuit split usually dramatically increases the chances of the Supreme Court review of the issue.
The Supreme Court agreed to hear petitions from plaintiffs challenging the marriage bans in these four states. The two issues in front of the Court are whether the Constitution requires states “to license a marriage between two people of the same sex” and whether states must “recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out of state”. A final ruling on these two issues is expected in June.
Both proponents and opponents of same sex marriage were happy that the issue is in front of the Supreme Court. Proponents of same sex marriage want to end the legal bans against same sex couples. Opponents want to uphold the states’ right to decide the issue, including the right to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman.