Supreme Court decision pending on Defense of Marriage Act, Prop 8

Last week, the Supreme Court heard arguments over the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between a male and a female for federal purposes, and California’s Proposition 8, a 2008 voter initiative that narrowly overturned the state’s Supreme Court ruling that granted gays and lesbians the right to marry.

A decision in the case, which could redefine how the federal government recognizes marriages, is expected in June.

“It’s all a question of what the Court rules,” said Jeffrey Jackson, professor at the Washburn University School of Law. “What they could do is say that there is a Constitutional right to marriage that extends to same-sex couples, but I don’t know that they will. In fact, I’m pretty confident that they won’t.”

The issue of marriage equality has been a controversial topic for years, but recently public opinion has shifted dramatically in favor of granting homosexuals the right to wed. In 2004, according to a poll conducted by The Washington Post and ABC News, which asked respondents whether they think it should be legal or illegal for gay and lesbian couples to get married, 55 percent said it should not be legal while 41 percent said it should be legal. Today, in 2013, 58 percent responded that gays should be allowed to marry, while just 36 percent said they should not.

“I think that shift starts with the acceptance that there are people in this world that are different,” said Brandon Haddock, director of K-State’s LGBT resource center.

According to Haddock, the change in opinion can be traced to the fact that more people interact with gays and lesbians in their daily lives.

“Familiarity kind of helps further the understanding,” Haddock said. “If you can identify with somebody on the same level, then you’re less likely to feel that their life is wrong.”

The state of Kansas has stayed true to its conservative roots on the issue of marriage equality. In 2005, voters passed an amendment to the state constitution that makes it unconstitutional to recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions. The referendum was approved by an overwhelming 70 percent of voters. Despite the national trend of increased support for gay marriage, Haddock says that if the same referendum were put to a vote today, he expects the outcome would be no different.

According to Jackson, the chances that the Supreme Court rulings will have a direct effect on Kansas laws are slim.

“[A ruling] wouldn’t effect Kansas unless they actually do rule that there’s a fundamental right to same-sex marriage provided by the Constitution,” Jackson said. “Should the court rule that way, it would open up marriage in every state, but I don’t count five [Supreme Court] votes for that.”

Jackson says he expects the court to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, which would end federal regulation of same-sex marriage and allow states to decide their own marriage laws.

“Keep in mind, we’re all just throwing darts here,” he said. “I think what you’re going to see is a fractured opinion.”

Jackson also predicts that the Supreme Court will leave intact the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision overturning Proposition 8.

Despite the slim chances of a landmark Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage rights, proponents of marriage equality say that it’s a huge step that the case is being heard.

“I think it’s something that’s needed to be done,” said Rhett Jones, senior in hotel and restaurant management. “I understand why it’s been held to the state level so far, because marriage is a state-regulated institution, but the fact of the matter is that basic rights are a national issue.”

Editor’s Note: This article was completed as an assignment for a class in the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications.