Why Marriage Equality Is A Federal Issue Not A State Issue

by Chris Walker

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week on whether the Constitution guarantees the rights of same-sex couples to receive equal marriage rights across the nation.

Many expect the Court to rule in favor of marriage equality, finding state bans on unions of same-sex couples to be unconstitutional; though, the margin isn’t expected to be above a tight split of a 5-4 vote among the Justices.

Such a ruling would make marriage equality the law of the land.

It would end discriminatory state laws and constitutional amendments that have previously banned gay and lesbian couples from receiving legal protections and recognitions of their partnerships.

Some have suggested the Supreme Court should rule differently. These critics say marriage should be regulated by the states, and federal interference is not only unnecessary but also an intrusion into states’ rights.

“Marriage is not commerce, war or taxation,” says Jason Kuznicki of the CATO Institute. “It is unrelated to money, the post office, the patent system or any of the other enumerated powers of the federal government. Its regulation is neither necessary nor proper in pursuit of those powers.”

Marriage laws are, indeed, primarily written by the states, but there are federal laws and benefits, too, that also warrant consideration. It makes complete sense the federal government should have a stake in determining what happens.

Federal involvement in who can marry whom in certain states isn’t uncommon.

In 1967, the Supreme Court interjected itself in a case involving an interracial couple seeking to get married in the state of Virginia, which had, at the time, banned such marriages.

Loving v. Virginia was a groundbreaking case that ended interracial bans in marriages across the nation.

It was a decision made by the Supreme Court, which mandated that, while states could make decisions on what benefits and privileges could be administered to married couples, it couldn’t define marriage in such a narrow way – as being between two people of the same race.

In a similar way, the Court may rule this term marriage cannot be confined to two people of opposite sex.

The Court may find — relying on the 5th and 14th Amendments of the Constitution, as well as precedent established in cases like Loving v. Virginia — that such limitations place an undue burden on same-sex couples.

A ruling in favor of marriage equality by the Court would effectively make every state law or constitutional amendment null and void, in the same way that Loving v. Virginia negated all laws restricting interracial marriages.

There are fears, mostly unwarranted, that a decision by the Justices in favor of marriage equality would go further than it intended.

Some have concerns churches or other religious bodies would be required to accept gays or lesbians into their doors.

But, a ruling by the Court to grant marriage equality to same-sex couples would do no such thing.

Churches can deny anyone from marrying in their churches, and they do so regularly.

A ruling made by the Court would merely require governments, at local and national levels, to recognize and reward benefits to same-sex married couples in the same way they do heterosexual couples.

The precedent is there; marriage, while being a state-sponsored activity, is well within the confines of being regulated by decisions made by the federal court system.

The Supreme Court, should it rule in favor of ending discriminatory bans on same-sex marriages, would be doing so without controversy and without stepping on the toes of the states’ rights.