Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Gay Marriage Cases

Ariel Owens (right) and his spouse Joseph Barham (left) after they were married at San Francisco City Hall June 17, 2008. 

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

On Friday afternoon, the Supreme Court agreed to review the 6th Circuit’s decision upholding gay marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky. The decision will bring the question of marriage equality before the court for the first time since 2013’s United States v. Windsor, when five justices voted to strike down a federal gay marriage ban as a violation of the Constitution’s equal protection and due process guarantees. This time around, the court will consider whether state-level bans against gay marriage, as well as state laws forbidding the recognition of gay marriages performed in other states, violate the 14th Amendment.

Most court-watchers—myself included—expect the five justices of the Windsor majority to reverse the 6th Circuit’s decision and declare that all state-level gay marriage bans qualify as unconstitutional discrimination. In doing so, the court would validate the decisions of the four circuit courts and several dozen lower courts that read Windsor as a clear command of constitutional equality. The Windsor majority, after all, held that the federal gay marriage ban “degrade[s]” and “demean[s]” same-sex couples; there is no logical reason why state gay marriage bans should “degrade” gay people any less.

Still, a handful of federal judges have caustically criticized the idea that the same-sex marriage debate is effectively settled, pointedly noting that the Supreme Court has yet to declare all gay marriage bans unconstitutional. Today’s decision means the justices will soon have a chance to do just that, likely settling the legal aspect of the marriage equality debate once and for all. Expect the case to be heard in April, with an opinion arriving at the end of June—and the argle-bargle accusations commencing shortly thereafter. 

Want to hang out with Outward? If you’ll be in or near New York City on Feb. 3, join June Thomas, J. Bryan Lowder, and Mark Joseph Stern—and special guest Lea DeLaria of Orange Is the New Black fame!for a queer kiki at the first ever Outward LIVE show, hosted by City Winery. Details and tickets can be found here.