What is the court considering?
On Tuesday, justices heard arguments about California's Proposition 8, which bans gay marriage in the state. Wednesday, justices will hear arguments about the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which is a federal law defining marriage as between one man and one woman.
Decisions in the cases are expected by June, when the court recesses for the summer.
Oklahoma law outlaws same-sex marriage and does not recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states where the practice is legal. Issuing a marriage license for gay couples is a misdemeanor offense here.
What could happen?
The Supreme Court could rule one of several ways on each of the issues, said Joseph Thai, presidential professor of law at the University of Oklahoma College of Law. Here are some of the more likely options:
The court upholds the Defense of Marriage Act: Nothing changes in Oklahoma. The state doesn't have to recognize same-sex couples married in other states, and the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage stays in place, Thai said.
The court strikes down the Defense of Marriage Act: All states, including Oklahoma, must recognize same-sex marriages from other states, and therefore provide the same legal rights and benefits as heterosexual couples married in other states. However, Oklahoma does not have to grant homosexual couples the right to marry within the state. But state bans on same-sex marriage will likely fall in coming years. Thai said he thinks the court is likely to rule this way.
The court upholds Proposition 8: Nothing changes in Oklahoma.
The court strikes down Proposition 8: All states, including Oklahoma, would have to allow same-sex couples to marry.
The court dismisses the Proposition 8 case: Debate has arisen about whether those defending the proposition have legal standing to do so. The court could dismiss the case, saying the law must be defended by the state of California, not those who support it on moral or ideological grounds. The issue would likely not appear before the court again for a few years.
What happens after the court rules?
Any ruling would go into effect immediately, Thai said, but there are exceptions. Sometimes the court grants leeway for implementing rules, such as in the case of Brown v. Board of Education, he said. Thai said he doubts leeway would be given in this case.
“When the Supreme Court decided that the Constitution prohibits states from denying mixed-race couples the right to marry, there was no fudging of when the decision would take effect,” Thai said. “It was immediate. If the Court were to decide that the Constitution likewise prohibits states from denying same-sex couples the right to marry, the decision would also likely have immediate legal effect.”
If federal law allows gay couples to marry, Oklahoma's ban would be invalid, Thai said. However, the law would likely stay on the books, even though it wouldn't have any legal sway.
Carrie Coppernoll, Staff Writer