U.S. Justices Take up Gay Marriage for the First Time

The US Supreme Court is to consider two landmark cases on same-sex marriage this week.

The Supreme Court will think over the legality of a California ballot initiative that limits marriage to gay unions. Photo: cool revolution/Flickr

On Tuesday, the justices are scheduled to weigh a California constitutional amendment banning same-sex couples, passed after gay marriage was legalized there.

On Wednesday, a federal law defining marriage as between a man and a woman only will be considered, to find out the purpose of taxes and benefits.

As Reuters reminds, the hearings come before the high court at a time when more states have legalized gay marriage. Last year three more – Maryland, Maine and Washington – did so, bringing the total to nine plus the District of Columbia.

“Never before in our history has a major civil rights issue landed on the doorstep of the Supreme Court with this wave of public support,” said Theodore Boutrous, a lawyer for opponents of the California initiative, which is known as Proposition 8.

Prop 8’s defenders insist that the state do have a reason for treating gay uninons differently: only couples consisting of a man and a woman can produce children.

“This indisputable difference between same-sex and opposite-sex relationships demonstrates that Proposition 8 is constitutional, for the Constitution requires only that a state treat similarly situated persons similarly,” they argue in their legal brief filed with the court.

“California has simply reserved a special form of recognition and support to those relationships that have long been thought to uniquely further vital societal interests,” they say.

Besides, Prop 8’s supporters stand for importance of marriage as an institutions that the courts should proceed with caution before changing the rules.

“It is plainly reasonable for the people of California to be concerned about the potential consequences of such a profound redefinition of a bedrock social institution.”

The case started three years ago when a gay couple, Jeff Zarillo and Paul Katami in Los Angeles, along with a lesbian couple from the Bay area, Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, filed a lawsuit to challenge Prop 8.

Their cause drew much of public’s attention when two of the nation’s most prominent lawyers, conservative Ted Olson and liberal David Boies, agreed to take the case.

Olsen and Boies have long been on opposite sides, most notably in the battle over counting disputed ballots from Florida in the presidential election of 2000, NBC News writes.

They agree with the Prop 8 proponents on one issue. “Marriage is a unique, venerable, and essential institution.” The two couples, claim that they”simply want to be part of it.”

Advocates for both sides are now expected to demonstrate outside the multi-columned Washington courthouse. Those who plan to attend include Chief Justice John Roberts’ cousin Jean Podrasky, a lesbian from California who would like to marry her partner.

“There’s no fundamental right to same sex marriage in the U.S. Constitution,” said Austin Nimocks, a member of the legal team arguing in support of the California law.

President Obama, who initially claimed that marriage was an issue for the states to decide on their own, seemed to have changed his mid last year.  As a result, his administration’s Justice Department has weighed in supporting the two couples.

“When it comes to marriage, the basic principle that America is founded on – the idea that we’re all created equal – applies to everybody regardless of sexual orientation,” Obama said at a White House news conference earlier this month.

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