Update, 3:25 p.m.: The Supreme Court released a list of cases it will take on, but same-sex marriage was not among them. There is still a chance the Court will announce it will in fact take on one of the pending appeals sometime next week.
The Supreme Court met behind closed doors Friday morning to discuss which cases it plans to take up this term. On the agenda were 10 appeals related to same-sex marriage issues—from marriage equality to health insurance benefits for same-sex couples—including challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act.
The Supreme Court’s possible decision to weigh in on one of the pending appeals comes months after major rulings by federal appeals courts on same-sex marriage and rights. In February, a California federal appeals court struck down Proposition 8, upholding a 2010 ruling that declared the proposition unconstitutional. Prop 8 banned same-sex couples from marrying in the state despite the California Supreme Court’s previous 2008 ruling to allow it. In October, a New York federal appeals court ruled Section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional, upholding a lower court’s ruling earlier this year on the same case.
DOMA was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996. The former president has since advocated for its repeal. Its key provisions granted states the right to ignore other states’ laws on same-sex marriage and also defined marriage as the “legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.” The latter provision, Section 3, has been found unconstitutional in several lower courts and also by the Obama administration, which said they would no longer defend it in court.
If the Supreme Court takes on one of the challenges to DOMA, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg predicted it would, its ruling would not necessarily create a federal law that would legalize same-sex marriage nationally.
Same-sex marriage has been decided state-by-state for decades. There are currently nine states that legally recognize same-sex marriages, and 31 states that have amended their constitutions to prohibit it. As SCOTUSblog notes, the high court won’t be ruling exactly on whether same-sex marriage is legal, but rather a “fundamental right [that] cannot be withheld from gays and lesbians.”
But if the Supreme Court rules it unconstitutional, as lower courts around the country already have, it could overturn each constitutional ban and start the process of setting a national rule that could allow same-sex marriages across the country.
According to attorney Tom Goldstein, “Our country and societies around the world will read the Justices’ decision(s) not principally as a legal document but instead as a statement by a wise body about whether same-sex marriages are morally right or wrong.”