Hot Potato speakers trace same-sex marriage legal journey

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By V.L. Roberson

The Supreme Court will decide whether same sex marriage is legal under the U.S. Constitution because of the “equal protection clause” of the 14th Amendment, this college’s paralegal studies coordinator and the district director of instructional and professional development said March 17 at a Hot Potato luncheon at the Methodist Student Center.

The 14th amendment provides the constitutional guarantee no person or class of persons can be denied the same protection of the law enjoyed by others in like circumstances in their lives, such as liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness.

“If it’s not OK to ban marriage between races, is it OK to ban marriage between genders?” Tandy Schoolcraft, paralegal studies professor and an attorney, asked. “Does the equal protection clause now apply to sexual orientation?”

She explained the court cases that have sent the issue to the Supreme Court, and Dr. Paul W Wilson, director of instructional and professional development, explained the history of marriage.

He said marrying for love was a cultural shift introduced in the Enlightenment in 17th and 18th centuries. Previously, marriages were arranged for financial, military and royal alliances.

In 1967 in Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court overturned miscegenation laws banning mixed race marriages, Schoolcraft said.

The Supreme Court will hear in April DeBoer v. Snyder in which the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a decision allowing gay marriage.

The court reversed the lower court’s decision to disallow the marriage ban, indicating in the opinion they believed it is best to allow change to occur through the political process in which gay and straight people alike determine the outcome. Two justices concurred and one dissented.

The plaintiffs appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court who will hear the case in April.

“This case could be a factor in deciding the same sex marriage case,” she said.

On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Windsor v. United States that Section 3 of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that denies legally married same-sex couples protections and responsibilities of marriage is unconstitutional.

The court stopped short of requiring same sex marriages be recognized throughout the country at that time.

“In 1993, Hawaii was the first state to have a same sex marriage. That state Supreme Court upheld it. Their legislature passed legislation to ban it. Within four years of that decision, 37 states had same sex marriage bans,” Schoolcraft said.

Vermont and Massachusetts were first with civil unions; however, these were challenged because same-sex couples were denied the same benefits, medical, tax filing options and inheritance provisions other married couples enjoyed, she said.

She said if the Supreme Court rules same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional, that will mean same-sex marriages have to be recognized and allowed in all states.

Even if the Supreme Court decides not to rule in DeBoer v. Snyder, other cases are being appealed.

The 5th Circuit Court will hear DeLeon v. Perry, a case decided in federal court in San Antonio in which U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled a same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.

In the discussion following the lecture, the audience had mixed views, mostly sharing concerns over the implications of legalization of same-sex marriage. One student asked what allowing same-sex marriage would lead to. Another questioned the economic impact of additional marriages and divorces.

“Those words in the Constitution suffer from symbolism and have to be interpreted, and nothing in the constitution is absolute,” Wilson said.

“People of the Baby Boom generation are resistant. The younger generation is like ‘why is this even an issue?’” Wilson said.

In response to a question, Schoolcraft explained the Supreme Court’s refusal to rule in Utah’s Kitchen v. Herbert basically allows same-sex marriage.

Utah’s argument is same-sex marriage would threaten family values and children need to be raised in a two-parent home because that’s best for the child.

The court said it had no evidence this was detrimental to the children of these relationships.

Studies have not shown same-sex marriages are detrimental to children.

Research in 2009 from the University of Amsterdam and New York State Psychiatric Institute published in the journal Sex Roles, stated, “Children in lesbian families felt less parental pressure to conform to gender stereotypes, were less likely to experience their own gender as superior and were more likely to be uncertain about future heterosexual romantic involvement.”

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