The Supreme Court announced last week that it would be tackling the issue of a same-sex couple’s right to marry. The nation’s highest court will be answering two questions related to same-sex marriage: 1) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex; and 2) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?
An important factor in the Court’s decision is the landmark 1967 case of Loving v. Virginia. In Loving, the Court invalidated state laws that banned interracial marriage as violations of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. The Court found that there was no legitimate purpose for these bans while noting that “marriage is one of the basic civil rights of man.” Many supporters of same-sex marriage see this decision as paving the way for equal marriage rights for same sex couples, and numerous federal courts have cited the decision in deciding challenges to same-sex marriage bans.
This important decision, with implications that could impact millions people, however, likely rests in the hands of one man, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy. With the liberal and conservative Justices’ votes more or less locked up, the power to decide this important issue lies with the Court’s notorious swing vote, Justice Kennedy.
Many supporters of same-sex marriage are optimistic that Justice Kennedy will side with them based on his previous opinions in cases such as Romer v. Evans, which struck down a Colorado constitutional amendment forbidding local gay rights legislation, and Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down Texas’ ban on sodomy. Most recently, Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in the 2013 case of US v. Windsor, which held provisions of the controversial Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional.
While the final decision will not be for many months, advocates are hopeful that the tides are turning in favor of marriage equality. Same-sex marriage is now available in 36 states, and supporters hope that the Supreme Court will catch this momentum and recognize same-sex marriages nationwide. Though there is no way to know the way the court will rule, it is certain that the decision will be extremely influential.