Supreme Court

What Will the Supreme Court Do on Gay Marriage?

Photo Courtesy Kevin Eckstrom/RNS.

Supporters of gay marriage. Photo Courtesy RNS.

Houston lawyer Mitchell Katine came to the Supreme Court 10 years ago for the final chapter of Lawrence v. Texas, the landmark gay rights case in which the justices struck down state sodomy laws.

Neither Katine nor the other lawyers working for John Lawrence and Tyron Garner in their battle against Texas’ sodomy law imagined the length and breadth of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority decision, which struck down all remaining state sodomy laws.

As the Supreme Court prepares to issue two historic decisions on gay marriage this month, however, the judges and lawyers who worked on both sides of those earlier cases don’t expect anything quite so eloquent or all-encompassing from a cautious and conservative court.

Both Sides See Gay Marriage as ‘Inevitable’

Supporters of gay marriage rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this spring. Photo courtesy RNS.

About 72 percent of Americans say legal recognition of same-sex marriage is “inevitable,” according to a survey released Thursday.

Of those who support same-sex marriage, about 85 percent say it is inevitable, says the Pew Research Center’s survey. About 59 percent of opponents also say it is inevitable.

“As more states legalize gay marriage or give equal status, the question in our minds was how the public sees the trajectory on this issue,” said Michael Dimock, the report’s lead author and director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. “Do they see a future in which gay marriage is going to be the rule, not the exception, in American society?”

Supreme Court to Hear Case on Prayer at Government Meetings

Man holding up Bible in front of court house, Cheryl Casey /

Man holding up Bible in front of court house, Cheryl Casey /

The Supreme Court agreed Monday to consider whether prayers can be offered at government meetings — a practice that’s been common in Congress and throughout the states for more than two centuries.

The religious expression case, which comes to the court from the town of Greece, N.Y., focuses on the first 10 words of the First Amendment, ratified in 1791: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

That Establishment Clause was violated, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year, when the Greece Town Board repeatedly used Christian clergy to conduct prayers at the start of its public meetings. The decision created a rift with other appeals courts that have upheld prayer at public meetings, prompting the justices to step in.

ANALYSIS: Are Catholics Shifting Tone Or Substance On Gay Issues?

Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, celebrates Mass. Photo courtesy RNS.

When New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan told national news programs on Easter Sunday that Catholic leaders need to do a better job of showing that their opposition to gay marriage is not “an attack on gay people,” the nation’s top Catholic bishop seemed to be signaling an important shift in tone, if not policies, that acknowledges two new realities.

One is the election of a new pope, Francis, who in less than a month has demonstrated a clear preference for engagement and inclusion (washing the feet of women and Muslim inmates at a Rome youth prison, for example) rather than the confrontation and political purism that often found favor under his predecessor, Benedict XVI.

The other is the ongoing shift in favor of same-sex marriage in the court of public opinion and — if recent arguments on Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act are any guide — perhaps soon in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Cardinal Dolan: Catholic Church Could Do Better on Gay Outreach

RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz

Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the top U.S. Catholic prelate, says the Roman Catholic Church has to make sure that its defense of traditional marriage is not reduced to an attack on gays and lesbians.

Dolan is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and last month was reputed to have gathered some votes in the Vatican conclave where Pope Francis was eventually elected.

He made his remarks on two morning talk shows on Easter Sunday, just days after the Supreme Court heard arguments in two same-sex marriage cases.

ANALYSIS: Supreme Court Searches for Way Around Gay Marriage

RNS photo by Kevin Eckstrom

Edie Windsor speaks after oral arguments in her challenge to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. RNS photo by Kevin Eckstrom

In nearly two hours of arguments on Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard many of the expected cases for and against recognizing gay marriage: that refusing to do so is blatant discrimination, that gay marriage is a social experiment that the court should not preempt, that Washington has no role in state marriage laws.

Yet it was arcane arguments over matters of legal standing that seemed to most animate the justices, reflecting what seemed to be a desire to find a way for the court to sidestep a definitive up-or-down ruling on one of the most divisive social issues.

In short, the court — particularly its conservative majority — seemed to ask why they should hear a second gay marriage case in as many days, particularly one in which the government supports the lower court’s ruling. And the answer to that question will go a long way toward determining the outcome of a spirited national debate.

On Gay Marriage, Supreme Court Ponders Not ‘If’ But ‘How’

RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Throngs of same-sex marriage supporters and opponents gathered outside the high court. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Isn’t it remarkable, attorney Ted Olson said after arguing for same-sex marriage before the Supreme Court on Tuesday, that the other side wasn’t really arguing against it?

“No one really offered a defense,” he said of his opponents’ bid to uphold Proposition 8, the 2008 California referendum that effectively ended gay marriage in the state by defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

The question inside the courtroom was not so much can there be gay marriage, but “how do you establish marriage equality?” said David Boies, another attorney for Prop 8 opponents.

Indeed, the lawyer trying to prop up Prop. 8, which was struck down by federal trial and appeals courts, spent barely any time talking about the virtues of traditional man-woman marriage or the hazards of same-sex marriage.

And that, for supporters of gay marriage, shows just how far this debate has come in the U.S.: It’s no longer “if” it will be accepted and legal, but “how” and “when.”

Opponents of Gay Marriage Say They’re No Bigots

They are moms and dads, authors and activists, a former police officer and a former single mom. They’re black and white and Hispanic. One’s a Roman Catholic archbishop, another an evangelical minister. Many have large families — including gay members.

They are among the leading opponents of gay marriage, or as they prefer to be called, defenders of traditional marriage. And they’re trying to stop an increasingly popular movement as it approaches two dates with history this week at the Supreme Court.

Bill Clinton Urges Supreme Court to Overturn Gay Marriage Law He Signed

President Clinton is speaking out against the Defense of Marriage Act. Photo courtesy Religion News Service.

It’s not every day you see an ex-president ask the Supreme Court to strike down a law he signed.

That’s what Bill Clinton is doing with the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman — and which the high court will rule on this year in a landmark moment for the gay marriage movement.


The justices must decide whether the Defense of Marriage Act “is consistent with the principles of a nation that honors freedom, equality and justice above all, and is therefore constitutional,” Clinton writes in The Washington Post.

Voting Rights Act is an Important Moral Statement

Supreme Court Building,  Brandon Bourdages /

Supreme Court Building, Brandon Bourdages /

Our country’s laws represent our values and our moral compass as Americans. They set norms, define transgressions, and mete out consequences for actions. And almost 50 years ago, our nation realized the harassment, intimidation, bureaucratic shenanigans, and violence so many African-Americans and other minority communities experienced when trying to exercise their rights to vote and participate in our great democracy. Our intolerance of such injustice led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — a great triumph in the defense of life, dignity, and equality.

Notwithstanding the near-universal praise the Voting Rights Act has received for ending some of the most overt discriminatory practices in our country’s voting history, there are some saying the Voting Rights Act’s time has passed. In fact, on Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments from Shelby County, Ala., that a key provision of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional and should be struck down. These arguments are misguided. The Voting Rights Act remains a vital piece of our national moral commitment never to permit racial discrimination in elections again.