Supporters of marriage and family welcomed the Supreme Court’s announcement that it will review both state and federal cases about the definition of marriage in the coming months.
“The U.S. Supreme Court's decision to hear these cases is a significant moment for our nation,” said Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco, who leads the U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.
“Marriage is the foundation of a just society, as it protects the most vulnerable among us, children,” he said in a Dec. 7 statement. “It is the only institution that unites children with their mothers and fathers together.”
The archbishop said that he is praying that the court will be “guided by truth and justice” in order to affirm the true meaning and purpose of marriage, written in human nature as the union of one man and one woman.
On Dec. 7, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will hear two cases regarding the definition of marriage in the next year.
A federal case, Windsor v. United States, involves a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law passed with overwhelming bilateral support in Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton. The case challenges a section of the law that defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman for federal policies.
A second case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, concerns Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment adopted by California voters in 2008 to protect the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman after the state Supreme Court ruled that gay unions must be recognized as marriages.
Critics of the laws argue that they amount to unjust discrimination against gay couples and an unconstitutional violation of the equal protection clause. Proponents contend that the government has a legitimate interest in recognizing the union of man and woman because it is the fundamental building block of society and plays a critical role in bringing up the next generation.
While lower courts have struck down both laws, marriage advocates say they see hope in a Supreme Court ruling.
John Eastman, chairman of the National Organization for Marriage, said that it is “significant that the Supreme Court has taken the Prop. 8 case.”
Noting that the court could have declined to hear the case if it agreed with the lower court’s ruling against the amendment, Eastman said that he views the decision as “a strong signal that the Court will reverse the lower courts and uphold Proposition 8.”
He observed that Judge Stephen Reinhart, who had struck down the amendment in a federal appeals court, “is the most overruled judge in America.”
Eastman also welcomed the court’s decision to review the Defense of Marriage Act case.
“It’s not the job of federal judges to substitute their views for the policy judgments of the people’s duly elected representatives,” he said. “We believe the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn this exercise in judicial activism and stop federal judges from legislating from the bench on the definition of marriage.”
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, which has filed amicus briefs in several marriage protection cases, said that he was “pleased” by the court’s announcement.
“Virtually nothing is more important to the future of our country than marriage and the family,” he stated.
Perkins argued that it was “completely appropriate” for Congress to “create uniformity in federal law” by explicitly confirming the definition of marriage as it had always been understood in the Defense of Marriage Act.
The natural definition of marriage is maintained in 41 states, he observed, and enshrined in the constitutions of 30 of these states.
“Voters in these states will not accept an activist court redefining our most fundamental social institution,” he said.
Perkins is confident that the Supreme Court will acknowledge that the Defense of Marriage Act “is supported by numerous legitimate legislative purposes – all of which are consistent with our principles of federalism.”
Rulings are likely in both cases in late June. While the exact impact of the ruling in either case is not certain, Chris Gacek, senior fellow of regulatory affairs at Family Research Council, said that the justices will likely take up the fundamental question of whether there is a constitutional “right” to gay marriage.
It is possible that the court could simply dismiss both cases on standing or issue narrow rulings that apply only in their limited circumstances, he acknowledged.
However, he told CNA Dec. 7 that he believes the court will address the underlying question of whether governments can protect the definition of marriage that has always existed or whether they must be forced to recognize gay unions as marriage.
“I think they’re going to have to decide the big issue here,” he said.