By Associate Professor Douglas NeJaime
This op-ed originally appeared in The Advocate.
The Supreme Court has decided to hear two cases relating to marriage equality. The first, United States v. Windsor, raises the constitutionality of section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal recognition to same-sex couples' marriages. The second, Hollingsworth v. Perry, involves the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8, the state constitutional amendment banning marriage for same-sex couples. After the court's announcement, many commentators and some LGBT activists speculated that the court's ultimate decision in the cases would bring the end of marriage-based discrimination against same-sex couples. Some expect the justices to extend the fundamental right to marry to same-sex couples. Others are focusing on equal protection, anticipating a ruling that sexual orientation classifications merit heightened scrutiny. Such a decision would immediately cast doubt on any form of sexual orientation discrimination, including the marriage prohibitions that a vast majority of states maintain.
But this might all be wishful thinking.
Yes, the court might have taken the Windsor case because the Second Circuit Court of Appeals applied heightened scrutiny to sexual orientation classifications, whereas the First Circuit's Gill v. Office of Personnel Management decision applied only rational basis review. But, more likely, the court might have taken Windsor and not Gill because all nine justices could participate in the case. It was widely believed that Justice Kagan would have recused herself from Gill given her role in the Obama administration during deliberations regarding that case.
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