Half the Country's Attorneys General Ask Supreme Court to Decide Marriage Equality

Half the Country's Attorneys General Ask Supreme Court to Decide Marriage Equality

Attorneys general from 32 states have asked the nation's highest court to determine, once and for all, if same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, the Associated Press reports. 

Top legal officials from 15 states that have already established marriage equality — and 17 states that have yet to do so — filed a pair of amici curiae, or friend-of-the-court briefs Friday, asking the Supreme Court to review three cases currently pending before the court, regarding same-sex marriage in Virginia, Utah, and Oklahoma. 

The first brief, written by Colorado solicitor general Daniel D. Domenico, asks the nation's highest court to review two cases: Oklahoma's Bishop v. Smith as well as Rainey v. Bostic, a case out of Virginia brought by the American Foundation for Equal Rights and the legal team who defeated California's Proposition 8. By granting review, a process known as writ of certiorari, the Supreme Court has an opportunity to answer a question that only it can answer, the brief contends. Colorado, and by extension, other states withoug marriage equality, could face substantial legal fees from defending existing marriage bans if the Supreme Court ultimately strikes down such laws, the brief reads, according to the AP.  

Signing on to Colorado's brief are attorneys general from Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wisconsin. 

Top legal officials from 15 states that embrace marriage equality signed on to an amicus brief in Herbert v. Kitchen, a challenge to Utah's ban on same-sex marriage that, when initially overturned last December, resulted in a brief window in which more than 1,300 same-sex couples were legally married in Utah. Led by Massachusetts attorney general Martha Coakley, attorneys general from California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Washington argue, "States do not need more time to 'experiment' with marriage equality or study its side effects."

"The time has come to end the exclusion of same-sex couples from the institution of marriage," reads the brief. "Twenty jurisdictions currently permit same-sex couples to marry, and they contain nearly half of the Nation’s population."

The 16-page brief is straightforward in its explanation of why the nation's highest court cannot wait to determine, once and for all, whether same-sex couples are constitutionally guaranteed a right to marry the person of their choosing. 

"The Court should settle this important issue to ensure equal access to marriage because the continued exclusion of gay and lesbian couples from the institution of marriage is unconstitutional and the harm suffered by these couples and their families is significant," reads the brief. "Same-sex couples and their families are harmed legally, economically, and socially by being denied access to critical rights ranging from intestate inheritance to guaranteed access to healthcare benefits to joint filing of tax returns. They also suffer physical and psychological harm as a result of their second-class status."

The brief also outright rejects the claims of antigay advocates who contend that allowing same-sex couples to marry will fundamentally change the institution of marriage and bring about dire, unintended consequences. 

"The consequences of permitting same-sex couples to marry are well understood in those States that have embraced marriage equality," the brief reports, pointing to Massachusetts, 18 other states, and Washington, D.C., where same-sex couples can legally wed. "Ten years ago, same-sex couples were permitted to wed for the first time in the United States. While that historic moment reflected a significant advance toward equality for gay men and lesbians, it did not fundamentally change the institution of marriage. To the contrary, including same-sex couples has strengthened the institution and benefitted individuals, families, and communities. After a decade of experience with marriage equality, it is clear that there is no need for further 'experimentation.'"

The Supreme Court is not obligated to take up any of the marriage equality cases before it, though many court-watchers expect a ruling regarding nationwide same-sex marriage within the next year or two. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently told Katie Couric that the court won't duck its obligation to decide the issue and implied that she expects a decision to come down by 2016 at the latest.

"Based on our collective experience, the Amici States can attest that marriage equality has invigorated the institution," concludes Coakley, writing for all 15 states that signed the brief. "After more than ten years of marriage equality, we understand its implications: more couples who love one another are free to marry; more children are able to enjoy the benefits and protections that attend their parents’ marital relationship; more families enjoy the privileged status and security conferred by civil marriage; and more communities benefit from the stability marriage facilitates. The institution has not suffered or been fundamentally altered. Nor has marriage equality diminished the privileged status of marriage in our society. It is time for marriage equality nationwide."

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