Why You Need To Pay Attention To Today's Supreme Court Case

Photographed by Winnie Au.
Marriage equality is closer than ever. Protesters on both sides of the issue are crowded outside the Supreme Court this morning, as the justices begin hearing oral arguments about whether same-sex marriage is protected by the constitution. The ruling won't come until June, but there is good reason to get excited for what could be one enormous victory for civil rights in America.

When both sides in the marriage equality fight make their pitches to the nine justices on the Court, they’ll be arguing over two questions: Whether states are obligated to allow same-sex couples to marry, and whether states must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. It was only two years ago that the Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which banned the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages; many observers expect the court that struck down that law to come together again to uphold marriage equality.

Tuesday’s arguments are only one of the final steps in this fight. Afterwards, the justices have to consider and come to a decision, which isn’t expected until the end of June.

It’s not a sure thing; Justice Anthony Kennedy is often a swing vote in important cases, and there are many ways that a ruling could leave couples in many states in legal limbo. But, there has been such a huge shift in mainstream attitudes towards LGBTQ people over the past 20 years that it feels unthinkable that married couples in states like Florida would have to go back to living like second-class citizens. It was 1996 when the Supreme Court struck down a Texas ban on sodomy that criminalized private sexual activity. As of now, 36 states and Washington, D.C. currently allow same-sex marriage  — up from 12 just two years ago.

But, things aren’t better across the board. It’s still legal to fire people for being gay in 28 states, and trans people suffer violence, homelessness, and unemployment at staggering rates compared to other LGBTQ people.

Even if same-sex marriage becomes legal in every state, institutional and individual bigotry won’t disappear immediately. Alabama’s Supreme Court had state officials stop performing same-sex marriages when the state ban was struck down earlier this year, and Indiana’s Governor enraged many when he signed a religious-freedom law that could have allowed businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ patrons.

What happens inside the Supreme Court has the potential to change millions of lives, and a victory for marriage equality will be a joyous moment. It will spawn countless beautiful stories about couples finally making their relationships legal. But, it won’t be a happy ending for the whole community unless those who stand to win in this case dedicate themselves to the next fight.
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