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March 26, 2013

5 Possible Outcomes for Today's Historic Prop 8 Case

Supreme Court clerk, Aaron Tax and others waiting for the Prop 8 case to be heard
This is a guest post by Aaron Tax, SAGE’s Director of Federal Government Relations

Today, the Supreme Court is hearing the “Prop 8 Case,” officially called Hollingsworth v. Perry.  It’s the first of two marriage cases the Court will hear this week—the other being SAGE constituent Edie Windsor challenging DOMA. As framed by scotusblog, the two issues at stake in today’s case are:

  1. "Whether the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the State of California from defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman; and
  2. whether petitioners have standing under Article III, § 2 of the Constitution in this case.”

The first issue is what most observers care about.  And framed a different way, it asks whether the Constitution protects the right of same-sex couples to marry.  The second issue—standing—is important too, but to the casual observer it will appear to be a more technical, legal question, asking whether the parties even have a right to appear before the court.  If you’re interested, read more about standing from the Cornell Legal Information Institute.

Because of the complicated nature of this case, legal observers believe the court has at least five ways to decide the case, ranging from bad to good, with several options in-between.

Here’s a round-up of five possible outcomes, with some additional editorial comments, based on a summary by scotusblog:

  1. Really Bad: The Court says Proposition 8 (barring same-sex marriage in California) is constitutional, meaning any state, including California, can bar same-sex marriage.
  2. Better: The Court could rule that if a state offers same-sex couples everything but marriage-in-name (like a domestic partnership or civil-union with all the same obligations/benefits of marriage), AND it allowed same-sex couples to marry in the past, it must once again provide the whole enchilada to those couples, including the name “marriage.”  This basically only applies to California.
  3.  Even Better: The Court could rule that if a state offers same-sex couples everything but marriage-in-name (like a domestic partnership or civil union with all the same obligations/benefits as marriage), it must provide the whole enchilada including the name “marriage.”  This basically applies to all states that currently offer civil unions or domestic partnerships with all the same obligations/benefits as marriage.
  4. Unicorns-and-rainbows-fabulous: The Court rules that no state can bar same-sex couples from marrying. 
  5. Meh: The court dismisses the appeal because of a lack of standing (see above) and the lower court ruling stands, which held Prop 8 unconstitutional.

So what’s the upshot for LGBT older adults?  More than anything, it comes down to whether older adults who are in committed, same-sex relationships will be able to benefit from the more than 1,000 federal benefits provided by marriage, should DOMA fall.  In short, if you can’t even get married in your state, then there’s no marriage for the federal government to recognize. 

The Supreme Court will decide both cases by the end of June.


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