This month the Supreme Court will be hearing two major cases addressing same-sex marriage. Hollingsworth v. Perry seeks to uphold California’s Proposition 8, a ban on same sex-marriage, which was previously overturned by California’s Supreme Court, declaring the ban unconstitutional, a decision that was then upheld by the ninth circuit court of appeals. Proposition 8 supporters have now taken the case to the United States Supreme Court.
Another case, United States v. Windsor, will challenge the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The law, enacted in 1996, defines marriage for federal and interstate purposes as one man and one woman, meaning that federal government, or any state government is not required to recognize a same-sex marriage from another state. Because Edith Windsor’s marriage, as recognized by New York State, was not recognized by federal government, the estate left to her by her late spouse, Thea Spyer, was subjected to $363,000 in federal taxes. If federal government had recognized their marriage, Windsor would have received marital exemption from the taxes. The district court held that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, and the court of appeals affirmed.
As these cases have gotten closer and closer to the Supreme Court, reasons to deny same-sex marriage have dwindled, along with the number of people opposing same-sex marriage. In fact, just last week, an amicus brief encouraging the U.S. Supreme Court to declare California’s Proposition 8 unconstitutional was signed by 131 republicans. The brief declares that the republicans “support traditional conservative values, including the commitment to limited government, the protection of individual freedom, and the belief in the importance of stable families.” Included in the list of 131 names is one dear to Pennsylvania, former PA Governor Tom Ridge. Ridge’s change in convictions since he signed Pa.’s law banning same-sex marriage in 1996 reflects the turning tide happening now in the United States.
The first time that the Supreme Court ever addressed the issue of same-sex marriage in 1970, the issue did not receive much debate. Opponents argued that the long prevailing definition, “one man and one woman,” was not discriminatory. Nevertheless, 33 years later, Massachusetts became the first state to decide that government could not legitimately deny marriage based on sexual orientation, making same-sex marriage legal. As most Americans opened their minds to the possible benefits of same-sex marriage, opponents created a new argument that was more creative, to say the least. Dissenting justice, Robert Cordy, wrote: “Orderly society requires some mechanism for coping with the fact that sexual intercourse (between a man and woman) commonly results in pregnancy and childbirth. The institution of marriage is that mechanism.” With this contention, Cordy argued that since same-sex couples cannot accidentally face pregnancy, government has no investment in recognizing same-sex marriage.
In other words, marriage is nothing more than dealing with accidental pregnancy, so since gay couples must go through extensive planning in order to have a family, they have no need for marriage. By this reasoning, no person unable to reproduce, whether infertile or just elderly, deserves the right to marriage, and for a person putting the time and effort in to plan pregnancy, again, marriage is unnecessary. Marriage, according to Cordy, is simply the government’s way of encouraging unstable families to become stable. Pat Morrison from the Los Angeles Times sums up this line of reasoning: “Shotgun weddings good, gay marriages bad.” Yet, despite all of the obvious implications behind this argument against gay marriage, it is still, since its first use in 2003, one of the key arguments against gay marriage, and the centerpiece argument for the two Supreme Court cases this month.
In a brief written for the Unites States v. Windsor case, an attorney representing congressional republicans wrote, “because same-sex relationships cannot naturally produce offspring, they do not implicate the State’s interest in responsible procreation and childrearing in the same way that opposite-sex relationships do.” The brief also includes the idea that gay marriage’s effect on public perception of marriage would discourage straight people from marrying. But with not one shred of evidence to support this reasoning, its support is quickly dimming. In the brief signed by the 131 republicans including previous Pa Governor Ridge, the conclusion is “that marriage is strengthened, not undermined, and its benefits and importance to society as well as the support and stability it gives to children and families promoted, not undercut, by providing access to civil marriage for same-sex couples.”
The justice department agrees with these republicans that preventing gay couples from marrying would not aid the effort to convince straight couples to form stable families, and goes on to say, “Marriage is far more than a societal means of dealing with unintended pregnancies.” Though it took 10 years to reach this conclusion, hopefully government will not spend the next 10 years continuing with the debate.
Joy Wilson is a fourth-year student majoring in communications. She can be reached at JW794401@wcupa.edu.