The Supreme Court has agreed to hear four same-sex marriage cases this term.
Taking on a historic constitutional challenge with wide cultural impact, the Supreme Court on Friday afternoon agreed to hear four new cases on same-sex marriage. The Court said it would rule on the power of the states to ban same-sex marriages and to refuse to recognize such marriages performed in another state. A total of two-and-a-half hours was allocated for the hearings, likely in the April sitting. A final ruling is expected by early next summer, probably in late June.
The Court fashioned the specific questions it is prepared to answer, but they closely tracked the two core constitutional issues that have led to a lengthy string of lower-court rulings striking down state bans. As of now, same-sex marriages are allowed in thirty-six states, with bans remaining in the other fourteen but all are under court challenge.
Although the Court said explicitly that it was limiting review to the two basic issues, along the way the Justices may have to consider what constitutional tests they are going to apply to state bans, and what weight to give to policies that states will claim to justify one or the other of the bans.
In a part of the order that was not entirely clear, the Court instructed lawyers to limit their written and oral arguments to the specific issues they had raised in taking the cases to the Court. That apparently meant that couples seeking to marry can only raise that issue, and couples seeking official recognition of their existing marriages can only argue that question.
Rachel Maddow and Nina Totenberg discuss the pros and cons of putting this issue before the court once again. Hopefully Totenberg's take is the right one.