For Better or Worse? Nation Awaits Rulings by Supreme Court

7:00 PM, Jun 16, 2013   |    comments
Leslie Maggard, center left, and partner Kristi Watson, right, help hold a large rainbow flag while marching in the Boise, Idaho, Gay Pride celebration Saturday. AP
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Dustin Barnes, USA TODAY

Mississippi stands to be caught in the crossfire of what could be one of the most high-profile cases since Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 Supreme Court ruling that ended segregation. The issue: gay marriage.

Any day now the U.S. Supreme Court will issue rulings on two cases, one determining states' rights to define marriage and the other questioning the role of the federal government in recognizing same-sex unions.

And while Mississippians answered the question of gay marriage in 2004 by overwhelmingly approving a state constitutional amendment banning the practice, the aftershock of the Supreme Court rulings on California's Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act could weaken or obliterate the state's stance on the issue.

Or the nation's high court could reaffirm what Mississippi and 30 other states already have done in passing the bans.

Which way the typically 5-4 split court is leaning is anybody's guess.

Over the last year, more states have legalized gay marriages, with the number allowing the practice doubling since May 2012.

National trends show more acceptance of same-sex marriage, and a recent Pew Research Poll found nearly 73 percent of Americans - conservatives and liberals - believe legal recognition of same-sex marriages is inevitable. But the Supreme Court's rulings could decide if 2013 will be the year some, if not all, gay and lesbian couples will have the legal right to marry.

"We're certainly hoping for the broadest ruling possible," said Bear Atwood, legal director for the ACLU's Mississippi chapter. "There's no question once we know what the ruling is, we will start to plan for what the next best step is."

The broadest ruling in both cases would legalize same-sex marriages in the entire country and grant all the benefits that other married couples receive.

Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court will issue rulings this month on two separate cases dealing with same-sex marriage in the country. 
The constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act is being challenged on the basis that same-sex couples legally wed in permitting states should not be denied the federal benefits that apply to heterosexual married couples. 

Likewise, a challenge to California's Proposition 8 referendum - an amendment to the state's constitution that defines marriage as between one man and one woman - allows the court to determine if gay couples have a constitutional right to marry or if states have a reasonable argument in restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples only.

What are the implications?

In taking up the challenge to DOMA, the U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing, in part, Congress' role in denying some 1,000 federal benefits to same-sex couples legally wed in a state that recognizes the union. 

The Prop 8 case has broader implications, as the court can decide if marriage should be solely defined by each sovereign state or if gay couples are entitled to equal protection under the U.S. Constitution. 

Rulings in either case - affirming or reversing - will likely set a strong legal precedent as society moves on with the issue of same-sex marriage.

By the numbers

  •  A 2013 Gallup poll found that more conservative areas, such as the South, tend to have less people who identify as LGBT. 
  • Roughly 2.6 percent of Mississippians surveyed identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered, according to a 2013 Gallup poll. With an estimated population of 2.9 million, that would suggest about 77,000 Mississippians are part of the LGBT community. 
  • A recent study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law suggests Mississippi has seen one of the biggest and fastest shifts on same-sex marriage, almost doubling its support to 34 percent by the end of 2012. 
  • Mississippi voters approved a 2004 state constitutional amendment by the highest percentage in the nation - 86 percent. 
  • Mississippi has the highest percentage of same-sex couples raising children, according to 2010 U.S. Census data.
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