In the last week of March, the US Supreme Court received oral submissions in two cases concerning laws that discriminate against same-sex couples. ‘Proposition 8’ amended the Californian State Constitution, banning same-sex marriage. The Supreme Court is tasked with reviewing the decision of lower courts that Proposition 8 violates the US Constitutional equal protection clause. The Defence of Marriage Act is a federal statute that denies same-sex couples the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples. Same-sex marriage activists hope the US Supreme Court will affirm that gay and lesbian Americans are entitled to equal protection under the US Constitution and both laws are unconstitutional. They are equally conscious the outcome may see the DOMA law overturned but that the Supreme Court will not make a general ruling about the constitutionality of laws limiting same-sex marriage.
While these challenges will be decided on domestic law in the US, the comments of the US Supreme Court judges during the hearings drawing attention to the inherent inequality in these laws have bolstered the confidence of equal marriage activists world-wide as members from both sides of the US Government come out in support for equal marriage rights.
Madeleine Forster is a lawyer from DLA Piper on secondment with the HRLC