It’s going to be quite a year for gay marriage. The Ninth Circuit has denied the petition for rehearing of the February decision in which a three-judge panel ruled that Prop 8 violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Following on the heels of the First Circuit decision in the DoMA case, this means that cert petitions from the losing sides (in both cases, the side opposed to marriage equality lost) will be arriving at the Supreme Court’s door at almost the same time. The defenders of Prop 8 and DoMA have 90 days to file their petitions, and the parties that prevailed will then have 30 days to respond with an opposition to cert.
The filings will likely be completed in late September or early October, and the cases will probably make it to the Court’s conference calendar before the end of October. And that, of course, means just before the election. Will there be any spillover effect? Hard to say.
Whether President Obama will pay a price for having endorsed equal marriage rights is a question we won’t know the answer to until the day after the election, since people may hedge their responses to poll questions on this topic. Of more direct consequence, voters in four states – Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington – will vote explicitly on whether gay couples should be able to marry in those jurisdictions. Will the pending Supreme Court cases take the steam out of voter mobilization efforts? Or will both sides throw extra energy into sending a message to the Court?
Those four states could produce the most important first since Massachusetts became the first state where gay couples could marry: the first popular vote in favor of affirmatively extending marriage rights to same-sex couples. Surely that will happen in at least one of those states. Whether that kind of voter endorsement will have any sway on — hmm, shall we say Justice Kennedy — is a big if, but it sure wouldn’t hurt.
Photo credit: Fritz Liess