States' Attorneys Generals Split Ahead of Gay Marriage Arguments; Audio from SCOTUS
SeniorWomen.com's Editor's Note: SCOTUS Oral Argument for Hollingsworth v. Perry; Docket Number: 12-144, date argued: March 26, 2013; SCOTUS Oral Argument for United States v. Windsor; Docket Number: 12-307, date argued: March 27, 2013
By Jake Grovum, Stateline Staff Writer
When the Supreme Court heard arguments this week on same-sex marriage, it confronted an issue that has divided the public across the country and exposed fissures among the states. (See map.)
One divided group could weigh heavily on the justices as they consider what could be a historic, once-in-a-generation constitutional decision: the briefs of states’ attorneys general.
More than half the states’ top lawyers have weighed in on the same-sex marriage issue before the court, underscoring the degree to which state officials and those they represent see their interests at work in the case. Depending how the justices rule, their decision could upend established laws in nearly every state.
Photograph from Wikipedia by David Shankbone: A woman makes her support of her marriage, and not civil unions, known outside the Mormon temple at New York City's Lincoln Center, 2008.
As lawsuits over same-sex marriage have wound through the courts, the tangled web of state laws dealing with domestic partnerships, civil unions and same-sex marriage has become mired in the broader debate.
States’ rights and federalism could factor strongly in any decision the justices hand down as they consider two key questions: First, whether California’s Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage is constitutional. And second, whether the federal Defense of Marriage Act barring the federal government from recognizing legal same-sex unions is either unconstitutionally discriminatory or an infringement on states’ right to define marriage as they see fit.
In the first question on California’s ban, 20 states have argued the law should stand, while 13 plus the District of Columbia and the state of California argue it should not.
On the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, as it is known, 17 states filed a brief supporting the law. Fifteen, plus the District of Columbia, filed a brief arguing against it.
“This is one of those rare cases that has the potential to be the Brown v. Board of Education for our times,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, founding dean of the University of California, Irvine law school. “It’s not surprising that so many attorneys general are participating.”
“The Defense of Marriage Act represents an unprecedented intrusion into an area of law that has always been controlled by the states.” — Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley (D)
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