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The implications of the Court's upcoming decision

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | DECEMBER 12, 2012 6:30 AM

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Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear the arguments of two separate cases that challenge the legality of prohibiting same-sex marriage.

The court now has a critical and important decision to make that will either allow gay-rights advocates to celebrate and finally rest or will force them to buckle down and work harder to fight for the rights they believe they deserve.

The court's decision is the civil-rights case of this generation, and the court must vote to support the equal protection rights of same-sex couples both on a federal and state level.

The court will hear two cases, one against the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage at the federal level as the union between one man and one woman, allowing the federal government to ignore marriage contracts for the sake of taxes and other regulations.

The second case is much more similar to Varnum v. Brien, the same-sex marriage decision in Iowa, which struck down a statewide law defining marriage as the union between one man and one woman.

However, the case before the Supreme Court is an appeal from the California courts after those courts struck down a state referendum passed by voters in 2008 known as Proposition 8.

The court must decide whether the equal protections guaranteed to citizens under the Fifth and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution apply to the right of same-sex couples to marry.

The Iowa courts found this decision to be a fairly simple one. In 2009, the Iowa court unanimously decided that the equal-protection clause of the state Constitution does include the right for same-sex couples to marry.

Still, the Supreme Court does have a difficult decision to make, and it is unlikely that the decision will be unanimous.

"All nine of those justices are reasonable and acting in good faith, but that they can reasonably disagree with each other," said Todd Pettys, a University of Iowa law professor. "I think reasonable justices can and will disagree. It is going to be a closely divided ruling."

Pettys said he believed many of the same arguments used in the Iowa case will be presented in an attempt to justify the bans on same-sex marriage, and the court will have the additional pressure that more than half of the states in the United States have specific bans on same-sex marriage.

In fact, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 37 states specifically ban gay marriage and limit marriage as a union between one man and one woman, while only eight states, including Iowa, and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage outright.

"The United States Supreme Court's job here is more complicated than the Iowa Supreme Court's job," Pettys said. "The Supreme Court will have to consider how much significance to attach to the fact that so many states have recently banned same-sex marriage. That won't decide the case, but it will factor into the analysis and be an additional hurdle."

Whatever the Supreme Court decides, the rights of homosexual couples in the state of Iowa to marry will remain. However, the court's decision will affect any same-sex couple when it comes to federal taxes, federal health-care plans and any other federal considerations.  

While the court's decision will have widespread and lasting effects, the will of Americans to protect same-sex couples will win out, even if the Supreme Court does not decide in favor of same-sex couples this time. At most, the decision will only set back the fight for equal rights; it cannot end it.


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