The issue of gay marriage is hurtling toward a Supreme Court date this month, and activists on both sides are fearing — or hoping for — another Roe v. Wade-type decision.
The 1973 Roe decision — which the justices hoped would settle the legal question on abortion once and for all — instead spawned a political and cultural clash that is still raging. Many traditional-values advocates are predicting a similar divisive scenario if the high court overrides laws approved by legislatures and voters in dozens of states defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
If the Supreme Court “mandates genderless marriage, the resulting social divisions and political contentions will probably equal — and may surpass — those resulting from Roe v. Wade,” Nevada lawyer Monte Stewart and the Coalition for Marriage said in a friend-of-the-court brief in support of California’s voter-approved Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), both of which take a stand against same-sex marriage.
The similarity seen between the 1973 abortion decision and the two marriage cases lies in how a broad decision declaring a fundamental right has potential impacts for state marriage laws and, in some cases, constitutional provisions. A court declaration of a general right to marry a person of one’s own sex, as it did in the case of abortion, also would freeze political debate.
When Roe declared abortion a right, it struck down any state laws that conflicted with that ruling, said Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council. With same-sex marriage, that means nullifying or overriding overnight statutes in 41 states to limit marriage to the union of one man and one woman.
If the Supreme Court rules that those kinds of man-woman marriage laws violate the U.S. Constitution, then the effect “would be to change the definition of marriage for all 50 states, and impose same-sex marriage on all 50 states,” said Mr. Sprigg. “That’s why these cases are like the Roe v. Wade of same-sex marriage.”
Shutting off debate
Also, when the high court issued the Roe decision, it “shut that [abortion] debate off, and locked in the country when it was at its greatest loggerheads — and we have remained at that locked-in position ever since,” said John C. Eastman, chairman of the board of the National Organization for Marriage, which supports one-man, one-woman marriage laws.
A similar situation has arisen with same-sex marriage: Polls suggest that voters and elected officials are wrestling with the issue, with most states keeping the historical definition of marriage. A few — including Maryland, New York and Washington state — have legalized gay marriage, Mr. Eastman noted.
But if the Supreme Court shuts off that gay-marriage debate, “you will have created the same kind of strife and controversy, locking in the people to the positions that they have now,” said Mr. Eastman, who is also a law professor and founder of the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence at the Claremont Institute.
A leading gay-rights lawyer also sees sweeping changes if the Supreme Court allows “heightened scrutiny” of laws that affect homosexuals in legal battles. Such scrutiny would force government officials to justify any statute that treats gays differently from the general population.
“Normally, one of the first things you do when you’re reviewing a case on constitutional grounds is you decide the standard of review,” said Mary Bonauto, civil rights project director at Gays and Lesbians Advocates and Defenders.
If the high court decides that laws that single out gays and lesbians require a higher standard of review, “then, obviously, it has profound reverberations,” Ms. Bonauto said at a recent Respect for Marriage Coalition event.View Entire Story
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Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor. Beginning in 1994, Mrs. Wetzstein worked exclusively ...
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