Supreme Court

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 / Shutterstock.com

Supreme Court Building, Brandon Bourdages / Shutterstock.com

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.

Gay Marriage Opponents Make Their Case to Supreme Court

WASHINGTON — Foes of same-sex marriage are warning the Supreme Court that lifting state or federal restrictions would threaten their own economic and religious freedoms and lead to social and political upheaval.

In about three dozen briefs filed in recent weeks, groups ranging from U.S. Catholic bishops and evangelicals to state attorneys general and university professors argue that upholding gay marriage could lead to penalties against objecting employers, military officials, and others.

Briefs from supporters of gay marriage are due by early March.

All Eyes on Texas, S.C. Church Property Fights

cdrin and iofoto / Shutterstock

Historic little wooden church and Businessman and businesswoman yelling at each other. cdrin and iofoto / Shutterstock

When disgruntled congregations have left hierarchical denominations such as the Episcopal Church, they’ve often lost property battles as civil courts ruled buildings and land are not theirs to keep.

But outcomes could be different this year, court watchers say, as high-profile cases involving dozens of Episcopal congregations in South Carolina and Texas wind their way through state courts. That prospect has observers watching for insights that could shape legal strategies in other states and denominations.

Both cases involve conservative dioceses that voted to leave the Episcopal Church over homosexuality, among other issues. In South Carolina, congregations representing about 22,000 people are suing the Episcopal Church for control of real estate worth some $500 million and rights to the diocese’s identity. In Texas, the national Episcopal Church is suing about 60 breakaway congregations in the Fort Worth area for properties estimated to be worth more than $100 million.

Both Sides Brace for Supreme Court Battle on Gay Marriage

David Ryder/Getty Images

Couple holds up the first same-sex marriage license in Washington state on Dec. 6. David Ryder/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court's decision to take up the explosive issue of same-sex marriage will thrust the high court into a policy debate that has divided federal and state governments and courts, as well as voters in nearly 40 states.

The court's agreement to hear challenges to the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage moves the issue to the top of the national agenda following a year in which advocates scored major legal and political victories.

The court likely will hear the cases in March and rule by late June on a series of questions, potentially including one of the most basic: Can states ban gay marriage, or does the Constitution protect that right for all couples? It also will decide whether gay and lesbian married couples can be denied federal benefits received by opposite-sex spouses.

Any decisions will make history on an issue that has divided the nation for decades. Nine states and the District of Columbia now permit same-sex marriages, and a decision against California's Prop 8 ban would add the 10th and largest state.

A ruling against the 1996 federal law could lead to a spike in gay marriages in all those states. Several more states are likely to consider allowing same-sex marriages in 2013.

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