Following are commonly asked questions about the Supreme Court’s two days of arguments in the gay marriage cases.
What issues were the justices deciding?
The constitutionality of two laws: the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8. Passed and signed into law in 1996, DOMA has two main sections: 1) It gives states the option of not recognizing gay marriages from other states and 2) it defines marriage for federal purposes and federal benefits as being between a man and a woman. Only the second section of DOMA was in front of the court. But even though the court did not deal with the DOMA section that affirms states’ rights, it nevertheless could get to that issue with the Prop 8 case. Prop 8 is a constitutional amendment, adopted by California voters in 2008, that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. California is one of 30 states that define marriage within the state constitution in the traditional sense. Another 11 states define it that way via statute. Nine states recognize gay marriage.
What are the possible outcomes of the cases?
If the court strikes down both DOMA and Prop 8, then gay marriage could be legalized in all 50 states. But there are other possible outcomes, including the upholding of both as constitutional. Based on the oral arguments heard by the court, though, that type of sweeping victory for social conservatives seems unlikely. If the court arguments are any indication, it seems more likely that the court will overturn the DOMA section at issue while at the same time not even ruling on the constitutionality of Prop 8, thus keeping the issue — for now — a state matter. Predictions, though, can be tough, as proven in 2012 when most court-watchers thought the justices would overturn the historic health care law, only eventually to see the court uphold it.
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