US Supreme Court to hear cases on same-sex marriage

Decision promises a period of high anxiety for both sides of a debate that has been raging in America

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The Independent US

In what could provide the final inflection point in what has become the civil rights struggle of the age for America, the US Supreme Court announced tonight that it will take up a case about same-sex marriage rights this spring with the promise to deliver a ruling before its current session ends in June.

The nine justices will consider an appeals court ruling that upheld bans on same-sex marriage in four states.  They are Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.  The number of states that now allow gay marriage has almost doubled in just three months as a result of both federal and state court rulings.

The decision now expected from the Supreme Court could be momentous.  Gay rights advocates will be hoping the justices will formally declare that lesbian, gay and transgender citizens have a right to marry under the US constitution, thus knocking down all remaining bans.

The alternative is they find in favour of the appellate ruling.  That, by contrast, could have the effect of rolling back many of the court rulings of recent months that have extended the right so much further.  Last week Florida became the latest to start offering gay marriage licenses making the 36th state to do so.

What this promises is a period of high anxiety for both sides of a debate that has been raging in America, not least since mid-2012 when President Barack Obama stepped forward and said he had changed his mind on the issue and supported same-sex marriage.  At the time it was available in only a small number of liberal states.  The first to allow it was Massachusetts in 204.

 

All eyes are expected to settle of Justice Arthur Kennedy who has shown a particular interest in tacklng the issue. With his record of siding with both the conservative and liberal wings of the court depending on the issue at hand, his the vote this time that is likely to tip the balance one way or another.

Justice Kennedy authored a 2013 milestone ruling by the Supreme Court that rejected a federal law passed in President Bill Clinton’s first term that specifically defined marriage as between a man and woman.  The ditching of the so-called Defence of Marriage Act was hailed as a historic advance by the gay community.  But on that day the court stopped short of declaring gay marriage a right for all the country.

Some see signs that the court will lean towards the former option, giving the right to everyone in the land.  It was widely noticed when last October it similarly had a chance to take up a gay marriage appeals case and declined to do so, a decision that was seen by some as deliberately giving lower courts a window to continue undoing existing bans.

“At this point, he's thought through the matter pretty carefully,” John Elwood a Washington-based lawyer said of Justice Kennedy and his likely deliberations. “He would probably rule the way you'd expect, for same-sex marriage.”

The case will be heard in April. Two issues will be centrally considered.  First whether the Constitution actually requires all fifty states to offer marriage licenses to same-sex couples and second whether states without gay marriage on their books are oblige to recognise same-sex marriage performed in states that do.

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