The Supreme Court on Tuesday appeared
deeply divided as it heard arguments in a case challenging gay
marriage bans in four states.
The case sprung from the high court's
2013 ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which
led to the federal government recognizing the marriages of gay
couples. Federal judges cited the ruling as they struck down state
bans. But rulings from Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Michigan were
overturned when they reached the Cincinnati-based Sixth Circuit Court
of Appeals. Plaintiffs turned to the Supreme Court, which agreed to
hear the cases as one.
Out the gate justices sounded skeptical
and as the hearing proceeded increasingly divided.
“This definition has been with us for
millennia,” said Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered the swing vote.
“And it – it's very difficult for the court to say, 'Oh, well, we
– we know better.'”
Mary Bonauto, a lawyer representing the
plaintiffs, responded: “Well, I don't think this is a question of
the court knowing better. When we think about the debate, the place
of gay people in our civic society is something that has been
contested for more than a century.”
Kennedy, however, also challenged John
Bursch, the lawyer representing opponents of marriage equality,
stating that the children of a gay couple could suffer if their
parents were denied the dignity of marriage.
“We're talking about something that's
going to change the meaning of the institution over generations,”
Bursch argued. “And, you know, you have things like no-fault
divorce where we tweaked what marriage means, and it had consequences
over the long term that some people didn't expect. … Ideas matter,
your Honor, and, you know, the out-of-wedlock birthrate ...”
“But that assumes that same-sex
couples could not have the more noble purpose, and that's the whole
point,” Kennedy interrupted. “Same-sex couples say, of course,
we understand the nobility and the sacredness of the marriage. We
know we can't procreate, but we want the other attributes of it in
order to show that we, too, have a dignity that can be fulfilled.”
Justice John Roberts Jr. suggested that
denying a gay couple a marriage license was “a straightforward
question of sex discrimination.”
“I mean, if Sue loves Joe and Tom
loves Joe, Sue can marry him and Tom can't,” Roberts said. “And
the difference is based upon their different sex. Why isn't that a
straightforward question of sexual discrimination?”
The proceedings were interrupted by a
protester yelling, “If you support gay marriage, you will burn in
hell!” The man continue to shout as police escorted him out of the
After the hearing, lawyers and
plaintiffs spoke to the media.
Greg Bourke, who wants his 2004
marriage to Michael Deleon to be recognized by Kentucky, said it
would have been easier for his family to move to another state.
“But we are proud Kentuckians and we
don't feel like we should have to leave our state just so that we can
get the same treatment that other couples get in other parts of the
country,” he said.
A ruling is expected in June.