Did the Supreme Court just tip its hand on gay marriage?
Did the Supreme Court just tip its hand on how it’s long-awaited ruling on gay marriage will come down? It sounds that way, as The Christian Science Monitor notes:
The US Supreme Court on Monday declined to issue a stay of a federal judge’s ruling invalidating Alabama’s definition of marriage as a union of one man and one woman, and requiring the state to begin allowing same-sex marriages Monday.
Alabama thus becomes the 37th state where gay men and lesbians are free to marry.
Two justices, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, dissented from the order. They said they would have halted the marriages until the Supreme Court issues its decision in four consolidated same-sex marriage cases, which are expected to be argued in April and decided by late June.
Could the court be tipping it’s hand? Two justices feared Monday’s action could be seen that way.
In his dissent, Justice Thomas suggested as such. “This acquiescence may well be seen as a signal of the Court’s intended resolution of [the same-sex marriage] question,” he wrote.
Some legal analysts have opined that the justices would not allow same-sex marriages to begin in Alabama if they were inclined to later uphold a right of states to ban such marriages.
The seven justices who declined the stay request did not offer an explanation.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s move on Monday to allow gay marriage to proceed in Alabama is the strongest signal yet that the justices are likely to rule in June that no state can restrict marriage to only heterosexual couples.
Of the nine justices, only two – conservatives Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia – dissented from the court’s refusal to block gay weddings from starting in Alabama. Gay marriage is now legal in 37 states.
Thomas acknowledged in a dissenting opinion that the court’s move to allow gay marriages to go ahead “may well be seen as a signal of the court’s intended resolution” as it considers cases from four other states on whether same-sex marriage bans are permitted under the U.S. Constitution. Although only two justices publicly dissented, the court order did not reveal whether any other justices voted to grant the stay.
Oral arguments in the cases, which are expected to result in a definitive nationwide ruling on the matter, are due in April with a decision expected by the end of June.
Gay rights groups shared Thomas’ view.
Sarah Warbelow, Human Rights Campaign’s legal director, said the justices’ action on Alabama “has telegraphed there is virtually zero risk that they will issue an anti-equality ruling this summer.”
The group also told same-sex couples in the 13 states where gay marriage is still banned to “start your wedding plans now.”
Thomas’ words echoed Scalia’s 2013 dissent from the court’s decision to invalidate a federal law that denied benefits to same-sex couples. Scalia predicted that the language of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion in that case would give judges a green light to strike down state gay marriage bans. That’s exactly what happened.
But the legal battle in Alabama still rages:
While the Supreme Court’s decision should, in theory, have allowed gay and lesbian marriages to proceed, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore complicated the matter Sunday night by sending an order to state probate judges telling them not to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. Last month, Moore threatened to defy the “tyranny” of federal courts on the gay marriage issue. The justice is famous for previously disobeying a federal court’s order to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments in the state judicial building.
Despite Moore’s orders, many same-sex marriages did proceed in Alabama on Monday. According to Equality Alabama, Dee and Laura Bush became the first couple to apply for a marriage license in Birmingham, the state’s largest city.
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