The U.S. Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments on April 28th regarding the rights of same-sex couples to marry. The momentum on this issue is with the LGBT community as ruling after ruling from the lower courts has found many state bans on gay marriage to be unconstitutional. There is of course a chance that this wave of progress will come to a halt given the conservative leaning of the high court.
The previous U.S. Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor extended to married same-sex couples many federal protections and benefits that married straight couples have long enjoyed. This included the ability of U.S. citizens to sponsor their foreign spouses in applications for marriage visas and green cards. The ruling did not, however, resolve the issue of whether or not all same-sex couples have a right to marry.
As of the start of these arguments, gays and lesbians can get married in 36 states plus Washington DC. The court’s decision here could either bring marriage equality to the whole nation, or create a major hurdle for the cause moving forward.
What’s at Stake?
There are two issues being considered. The primary one concerns the ability of states to define what marriages it will license; can it be limited to straight couples or must they allow for same-sex marriages as well? The smaller issue asks if gay marriages legally performed in states that allow for them must be recognized by the other states.
If the Supreme Court rules that same-sex couples do indeed have a right to marry, the remaining anti-gay marriage laws in the nation would be invalidated. Essentially, gay and lesbian couples could choose to reside in any state and get married there .
A less favorable ruling would deny same-sex marriage as a right, but see to it that existing marriages will be recognized by all 50 states. Those in states that do not license same-sex couples could get married in a state that does and upon returning home, they would enjoy full recognition of their union, including eligability of the foreign spouse for a marriage-based green card.
The other option has some potential to throw the situation into chaos. This would be a decision that states neither have to license same-sex couples for marriage, but they don’t even have to recognize their unions performed in states that do. This may open the door for some states where gay marriage bans were struck down for reconsideration of prohibitions.
This last option would be somewhat unexpected. Afterall, the rejection of appeals by the Supreme Court to several states seeking to maintain their bans on same-sex marriage is essentially what allowed the number of states with marriage equality to double in a short amount of time.