Last Tuesday’s Supreme Court debate about same-sex marriage was the result of decades of buildup, and will result in years of implications to come.
The Justices in the Supreme Court began what will be a two-month period determining the constitutional legitimacy of same-sex marriage.
In a broad sense, it is a two-pronged debate: the first question under consideration is whether same-sex marriage should be legal in all 50 states.
The second question comes into play only if the answer to the first question is no: Should same-sex marriage performed in states where it’s ratified also be recognized in states where it is not ratified?
The debate is complex, and so are the implications of its possible results. The case of the plaintiffs brings forward legal complaints that inhibit certain liberties within partnerships. These include the many things that married couples have rights to, such as joint adoption rights and health care liberties.
According to president of Seattle University’s Triangle Club Cy Enseñat, who uses they/them pronouns, the call for these legal rights with regards to marriage equality stemmed from the AIDS crisis in the ‘80s, in which the LGBTQ population was suffering from a lot of lives lost.
“A really important thing to address when addressing same sex marriage is that the same-sex marriage advocacy was basically born out of the AIDS crisis. And that everyone’s partners were dying and they couldn’t share health insurance,” Enseñat said. “They couldn’t have visitation rights. They couldn’t have everything like that.”
The debate will not have the same reception nationwide.
“I think that you have to take it through a lens of which comes first? Social change or legal change?” Enseñat said.
Part of the rhetoric behind this debate is whether the Supreme Court is reaching too far into people’s lives.
“The democratic process can work perfectly well and a majority can oppress a minority. Because that’s the way the democratic process works—majority rule. So that’s why courts worry about that,” said law professor Julie Shapiro.
After the debate, Shapiro participated in a forum to provide analysis and predictions regarding the Supreme Court arguments.
Shapiro believes that same-sex marriage will get the five votes it needs to pass—but how it gets there is a separate question. Since legally this issue concerns the definitions of several key words such as “liberty,” “equality” and “marriage,” there are several different lines of reasoning that the Justices could draw upon to make their decision.
According to Shapiro, how they get there will not be immediately important, but will have significant impacts on future generations.
In a similar way to how the Supreme Court justices are zeroing in on the exact definitions of words like “equality” versus “liberty,” the age-old conservative argument against same-sex marriage is that it does not fit the definition of what “marriage” is.
“I don’t think anyone would say that the quotes about sex and marriage in the Bible were trying to speak to a Supreme Court ruling about loving marriages in the context of our world,” said Campus Minister for Faith Formation Rachel Doll O’Mahoney.
According to Shapiro, there is also a tension between the belief that this decision could actually change what marriage is, and the belief that it will simply allow same-sex couples to gain access into the already existing institution of marriage.
“It’s not changing the institution, it’s just changing who has access to the institution,” Shapiro said.
Based on the history this movement is a lot bigger than marriage equality, Enseñat said. They said it’s a very important step, but it is far from the end goal. Enseñat believes that there are other issues facing the queer community that aren’t going to be addressed with same-sex marriage.
“It’s coming too late to really help those who this was meant for, because this was meant for those who were suffering in the AIDS crisis,” Enseñat said. “And I think it’s coming too early to have the full support…and help the rest of us [the queer movement] gain access to health care…stop sexual assault, stop transphobia—all those different things that are plaguing our movement and plaguing our youth.”
There is no way to know the results of this debate until June—but everyone is listening.