John R Selig

Writer. Photographer. Podcaster. Outspoken.

Same-Sex Marriage Heads Back to The Supreme Court of The United States – Why This Case Is So Important to Us

Me and my husband, Rodolfo Arredondo
Photo by Paul Jentz

I have eagerly greeted, albeit with nervous optimism, the exciting announcement on January 16th by the Supreme Court of The United States (SCOTUS) that they will hear another case concerning same-sex marriage during this year’s session. Just maybe, my marriage to the most incredible husband will be legal throughout the entire United States before the 4th of July of this year.

My husband, Rodolfo, and I were married in Canada nearly 11 years ago, in April 2004 before any state in the U.S. would allow same-sex marriage. The Canadian provinces of Ontario and British Columbia had begun allowing Same-Sex marriages in June and July of 2003, respectively, with the province of Quebec joining them in March of 2004. Same-sex marriage became legal in all of Canada on July 20th in 2005. Massachusetts was first the state in the U.S. to allow same-sex marriage and the first wedding took place there on May 17, 2004.

Why We Got Married

Rodolfo and I decided to get married in Canada because we did not want to wait for same-sex marriage to become legal where we lived some indefinite time in the future. We were and remain very much in love and believed that our marriage might help other people to understand and accept same-sex marriage. However, the real reason we married was because we loved each other and we wanted the same rights and obligations that heterosexual couples obtain when they marry. Even though we wouldn’t have the same rights where we live, we knew that we were equal and that there were people elsewhere who recognized our marriage.

Those who attended our wedding, including family and friends, commented that it had been a long time since they had seen two people so in love and that ours was one of the most special weddings that they had attended. Nearly eleven years after our wedding I love Rodolfo even more today. He treats me in a way that nobody else ever has. My first thought each morning as I awaken is how fortunate I am to share my life with Rodolfo.

We had been a committed couple for more than two years prior to our wedding. I didn’t believe that marriage would have that much of an impact on our relationship. We already were very much in love. Still, we were both surprised that following our marriage ceremony that our commitment to each other was somehow stronger. So much has changed in the United States since then. Today 70% of Americans live in states where same-sex marriage is legal. However, Rodolfo and I are still waiting for the same rights as the fortunate gay married couples living amongst the 70%.

Deep In The Heart of Texas

Rodolfo and I live in Texas, which is hardly amongst the most supportive states with regards to civil rights. Texas remains one of the 14 states where our marriage is still not recognized. Court cases involving the appeal of federal judge rulings supporting same-sex marriage and striking down bans in the states of Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana were presented before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit on January 9th. Each of the 3 states had appealed victories for same-sex marriages hoping to have them overturned. The 5th Circuit is reputed to be the most conservative of the Circuit Courts yet the arguments and questions from the justices on the court indicated that our side fared well.

We are hopeful that Texas will be forced by SCOTUS to treat our marriage the same as the 36 states and the District of Columbia whom all allow same-sex marriage. We are also hopeful that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit will rule in our favor even before this subject is ruled upon by SCOTUS in June. Such a decision by the 5th Circuit would aid in the case before SCOTUS.

Our Marriage Won’t Harm Yours

A decision to allow same-sex marriages in Texas and throughout the country will have a huge impact on our lives. For those who are against same-sex marriage I have some strong advice… please don’t marry somebody of the same-sex. However, you should not have the right to deny us the same human rights that you take for granted. Our marriage won’t harm yours! In fact, our marriage should be of no more concern to you than yours is to us.

The Texas State Legislature, strongly dominated by right wing, fundamentalist Republicans may be considering a bill in this year’s session to deny wages and retirement benefits to any state or municipal official who grants or recognizes a marriage license for a same-sex couple. Such behavior shows the depth of hatred towards gays that still exists in Texas and elsewhere in this nation and showcases just why civil rights cannot be granted based upon majority rules.

Human Rights Determined By Courts

Human rights issues are typically decided in the courts, as the judiciary is charged with protecting the rights of all citizens, not just the majority. Courts concern themselves with the rights of minorities who can easily be overridden by the majority. Might shouldn’t make right!

Still, public opinion has moved from being opposed to same-sex marriage to majority support nationally. This dramatic shift in every state has happened much faster than the LGBT community could have ever predicted. Democrats and Independents support same-sex marriage at higher percentages than Republicans but even support amongst Republican is growing. Same-sex marriage is a non-issue with most young people. The elderly are the most opposed. Straight LGBT ally support has been critical in bringing about this shift. So has the impact of gay people coming out and sharing our own stories. When gay couples explain the hardships we face by being denied a large number of legal rights, because we are unable to marry, our straight family, friends and co-workers are shocked.

But again, civil rights should not simply be decided in voting booths. A large percentage of people living in the Deep South are against interracial marriage. SCOTUS invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage in its landmark civil rights decision in Loving vs. Virginia in 1967, nearly 50 years ago. Many southern whites would still like to ban interracial marriages. No doubt there are states where a large number of voters would still support segregated schools.

SCOTUS is doing the right thing by taking up the same-sex marriage issue. It will be easier for justices on SCOTUS to rule in our favor with the strong shift in public opinion as well as the overwhelming support of Federal Courts and Appellate Courts. The only Appellate Court to rule against same-sex marriage so far has been the 6th Circuit involving cases brought by the states of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee where the 6th Circuit overturned the opinions of the federal judges.

Opponents argue that allowing same-sex couples to marry infringes upon their religious rights. Granting civil rights to others does nothing to infringe on religious rights. If a religion is against same-sex marriage they do not have to perform or recognize such marriages. That doesn’t mean that people practicing a religion should get to demand laws against everybody else not being able to marry. Do we have laws in this country that prohibit the sale and consumption of pork and seafood? Is it illegal to dance, use electricity, ride in horseless carriages, dress in fancy clothes, work on the Sabbath, be given blood transfusions or wear make-up?

Marriage is a State Contract Not a Religious Contract

Despite what fundamentalist preachers claim, marriage is a state contract. One goes to a government office to obtain a marriage license. Religious officials are able to perform marriage ceremonies but so can justices of the peace, judges, ship captains and others. No religious organization can be forced to conduct a marriage that is against their beliefs. Some faiths will not marry people of different faiths and they have every right to refuse to conduct such marriages. No religion will be required to conduct or recognize same-sex marriages. It is important to add, however, that there are many faiths that support same-sex marriage.

Same-sex marriage needs to be decided upon at the national level and should not differ from one state to another. Here is one reason why. Let’s assume my husband and I live in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage and we are driving to another state that does as well. Let’s also assume that we will be driving through a state where same-sex marriage is not legal. If we have a car accident in a state that recognizes our marriage and one of us is badly hurt the other can make medical decisions for the injured spouse. However, if the accident happens in a state that doesn’t recognize our marriage then we are screwed. This is ridiculous. Would anybody else settle for such a status for his or her own marriage?

Where Things Stand Now

Here is where things stand now. SCOTUS has agreed to hear arguments in the four cases combined together challenging marriage equality in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals (Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee). This case involves the only federal court to have ruled against marriage equality since the landmark ruling by SCOTUS in U.S. vs. Windsor in June 2013, which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). SCOTUS will decide two issues. First, does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex? Second, does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?

In it’s announcement agreeing to hear this appeal SCOTUS has set the following schedule. The plaintiffs’ opening brief (our side) is due to SCOTUS February 27th. Response briefs from the states opposing same-sex marriage are due to SCOTUS on March 27th. Both sides have until April 17th to file final briefs with SCOTUS. This leaves enough time for both sides to present oral arguments before SCOTUS in late April with SCOTUS expected to issue its decisions by the end of June.

This is obviously a highly charged emotional time for Rodolfo and me and other same-sex couples who are only asking for the same rights as other couples who choose to marry. Not all gays and lesbians want to get married. But for those of us who are already legally married or who someday hope to be this case is highly important. Regardless of which way SCOTUS rules there will be court cases afterwards to deal with the implications of their rulings. Most respected legal minds expect our side to win this case. But I learned from my parents long ago never to count my chickens before they hatch. I will remain nervous to the very end. Even so, I can see a day soon when Rodolfo and I will no longer legally be second-class citizens.

Recommended Links

Freedom To Marry
Freedom to Marry was launched in 2003 by Evan Wolfson, the civil rights attorney generally considered the architect of the national marriage equality movement.

Lambda Legal
Founded in 1973, Lambda Legal is the oldest and largest national legal organization whose mission is to achieve full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIVthrough impact litigation, education and public policy work.

Equality Texas
Equality Texas advocates and lobbies for the elimination of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. Equality Texas Foundation educates and engages the public about policies and their effect on Texans of all sexual orientations and gender identities/expressions.