Key Gay Marriage Quotes from the Supreme Court Justices
On Mar. 26, 2013, justices heard oral arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry, a Supreme Court case regarding the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 ballot initiative banning gay marriage. On Mar. 27, the justices heard oral arguments in United States v. Windsor surrounding the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a federal law that prevents legally married gay couples from receiving a range of benefits afforded opposite-sex married couples. The justices are expected to reach a ruling by July 2013.
We’ve excerpted three key quotes below from each set of oral arguments.
“Outside of the marriage context, can you think of any other rational basis, reason, for a State using sexual orientation as a factor in denying homosexuals benefits or imposing burdens on them? Is there any other rational decision-making that the Government could make? Denying them a job, not granting them benefits of some sort, any other decision? If that is true, then why aren’t they a [protected] class? If they’re a class that makes any other discrimination improper, irrational, then why aren’t we treating them as a class for this one thing? Are you saying that the interest of marriage is so much more compelling than any other interest as they could have?”
“The one thing that the parties in this case seem to agree on is that marriage is very important. It’s thought to be a fundamental building block of society and its preservation essential for the preservation of society. Traditional marriage has been around for thousands of years. Same-sex marriage is very new. I think it was first adopted in The Netherlands in 2000. So there isn’t a lot of data about its effect. And it may turn out to be a — a good thing; it may turn out not to be a good thing, as the supporters of Proposition 8 apparently believe. But you want us to step in and render a decision based on an assessment of the effects of this institution which is newer than cell phones or the Internet? I mean we do not have the ability to see the future. On a question like that, of such fundamental importance, why should it not be left for the people, either acting through initiatives and referendums or through their elected public officials?
“I think there’s substance to the point that sociological information [about allowing gay couples to marry] is new. We have five years of information to weigh against 2,000 years of history or more. On the other hand, there is an immediate legal injury or legal — what could be a legal injury, and that’s the voice of these children. There are some 40,000 children in California… that live with same-sex parents, and they want their parents to have full recognition and full status. The voice of those children is important in this case, don’t you think?”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
“[Marriage is] not a question of additional benefits. I mean, [it touches] every aspect of life. Your partner is sick. Social Security. I mean, it’s pervasive. It’s not as though, well, there’s this little Federal sphere and it’s only a tax question. It’s as Justice Kennedy said, 1100 statutes, and it affects every area of life. And so he was really diminishing what the State has said is marriage. You’re saying, no, State said two kinds of marriage; the full marriage, and then this sort of skim milk marriage.”
“You think Congress can use its powers to supersede the traditional authority and prerogative of the States to regulate marriage in all respects? Congress could have a uniform definition of marriage that includes age, consanguinity, etc.?… Well, I think it is a DOMA problem. The question is whether or not the Federal government, under our federalism scheme, has the authority to regulate marriage. Well, it applies to over what, 1,100 Federal laws, I think we are saying. So I think there is quite a bit to your argument that if the tax deduction case, which is specific, whether or not if Congress has the power it can exercise it for the reason that it wants, that it likes some marriage it does like, I suppose it can do that. But when it has 1,100 laws, which in our society means that the Federal Government is intertwined with the citizens’ day-to-day life, you are at real risk of running in conflict with what has always been thought to be the essence of the State police power, which is to regulate marriage, divorce, custody.”
“I would have thought… that the Executive’s obligation to execute the law includes the obligation to execute the law consistent with the Constitution. And if he has made a determination that executing the law by enforcing the terms is unconstitutional, I don’t see why he doesn’t have the courage of his convictions and execute not only the statute, but do it consistent with his view of the Constitution, rather than saying, oh, we’ll wait till the Supreme Court tells us we have no choice.”
Gay marriage is legal in nine states (Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and Washington) and the District of Columbia. 38 states have banned gay marriage via constitutional amendment or state law or both. Three states have no laws banning or legalizing gay marriage.