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Same-sex marriage

The meaning of marriage and the implications of expanding that right to gays and lesbians goes before the nation’s highest court.

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Day Two of the culture wars at the Supreme Court over same-sex marriage looks at the Defense of Marriage Act, with the justices considering Wednesday whether a federal law can deny equal benefits permitted in states where gay marriage is legal.

The arguments conclude presentations before the high court on one of the most prevalent social issues of this era — the right of gay and lesbian couples to wed and receive the full benefits of law provided to heterosexual couples.

Wednesday’s case examines the practical impact of the 1996 act, which defines marriage as between a man and woman and therefore means federal tax, Social Security, pension and bankruptcy benefits as well as family medical leave protections do not apply to legally married gay and lesbian couples.

It involves Edith “Edie” Windsor, who was forced to assume an estate tax bill much larger than a surviving spouse in a heterosexual marriage would have to pay.

Because her decades-long partner was a woman, the federal government did not recognize their same-sex marriage in legal terms, even though their home state of New York did.

“I was devastated by the loss of the great love of my life, and I was also very sick, then had to deal with pulling together enough money to pay for the taxes,” the 83-year-old Windsor recently told CNN.

Outside the court, public interest remained high, but not at the same level as Tuesday’s arguments in another case involving California’s voter-approved ban of same-sex marriage.

A smaller crowd gathered than the day before, with most of them opponents of the Defense of Marriage Act.

“I’m here today because I’m a social worker and I’ve seen a lot of people suffer over the years,” Mary Ann Piet told CNN. “And I’m concerned about not getting people their human rights, their dignity as people.”

Asked what she hoped to hear Wednesday, Piet said she wanted the justices to show that “they are going to think it through carefully” and determine that “we all deserve the same” to “fit with what the United States stands for.”

Conservative supporters of the law, known by its acronym of DOMA, contend it codifies a fundamental cornerstone of society, and changing the definition of marriage would have widespread negative impacts.

The federal statute presents tricky gateway or “standing” questions that threaten to stall any final consideration of its constitutionality. Those questions were expected to be the focus of much of Wednesday’s arguments.

Obama opposes law, House to defend

Led by President Barack Obama’s recent political about-face on same-sex marriage, which he now supports, his administration opposes the Defense of Marriage Act.

Traditionally, the solicitor general would defend the government’s interest in a Supreme Court case. However, Obama has already ordered the Justice Department to not take up the matter in court.

That prompted congressional Republicans, operating officially as the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House, to step in to lead the defense.

But there remains the question of whether any party could rightfully step in and defend the law after the Justice Department backed out. Besides the constitutional issue, the justices specifically ordered both sides to argue the supplemental question of whether the congressional group has “standing,” or legal authority to make the case.

Lawyers representing the House GOP said that they should be able to take the lead, since Windsor and the administration are taking the same legal position.

“Without the House’s participation,” said attorney Paul Clement, representing House leaders, “it is hard to see how there is any case or controversy here at all.”

Windsor’s legal team also said the House leaders could defend the law, at least partially, suggesting she wants resolution to the constitutional questions as soon as possible.

The momentous week for the Supreme Court to consider such a contentious issue kicked off on Tuesday with 80 minutes of arguments over California’s same-sex marriage ban.

The stakes in the two cases are high. The justices could, in one scenario, fundamentally alter how American law treats marriage. Polls show the public has become more aware of the issue and, in some cases, more supportive of allowing gays and lesbians to legally wed.

The California case

During Tuesday’s arguments, the justices seemed to lack consensus on both jurisdictional and constitutional questions of the voter-approved California law, known as Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage.

The overriding legal question in the California case is whether the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law prevents states from defining marriage.

The court could strike down laws across the country banning same-sex marriage, or it could leave the current patchwork of state laws in place, choosing to let state legislatures and state courts sort it all out.

“This was a deeply divided Supreme Court, and a court that seemed almost to be groping for an answer here,” CNN Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin said after the arguments.

Four of the more liberal justices seemed at least open to the idea that same-sex marriage should be allowed in California. Three of the more conservative justices seemed aligned with the view that marriage should only be for a man and a woman, and it’s likely they’d be joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, who doesn’t speak at arguments.

That could leave Justice Anthony Kennedy as the swing vote, as has often been the case.

While admitting the law’s defenders are “not just any citizens,” Kennedy raised concerns about whether just the possibility of same-sex marriage was enough to establish they had suffered harm — a key jurisdictional hurdle allowing them to appeal in the first place.

A decision is not likely before June.

Nine states permit same-sex marriage

Andrew Pugno, general counsel for the Protect Marriage Coalition, the group defending Proposition 8, said its attorney had “credibly presented the winning case for marriage.”

“We think the hearing went very well,” he told reporters.

Attorneys representing the two couples seeking to overturn Proposition 8, meanwhile, said they couldn’t tell how the court would rule.

“We are confident where the American people are going with this,” said Theodore Olson. “We don’t know for sure what the United States Supreme Court is going to do, but we’re very, very grateful they listened, they heard, they asked hard questions, and there’s no denying where the right is.”

One of the plaintiff couples — Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo of Burbank, California, who want to marry but can’t because of Proposition 8 — contend the state is discriminating against them because of their sexuality.

“This is about our freedom and our liberty,” Katami said. “We are not trying to topple marriage. We are not trying to redefine marriage. What we are trying to say is that equality is the backbone of our country.”

Forty-one states now forbid same-sex marriage, although nine of them allow civil partnerships. Nine other states allow same-sex marriage, and about 120,000 same-sex couples have gotten married, according to estimates.

Prohibitions seem to run counter to polls that show rising support overall for same-sex marriage.

A CNN/ORC International poll released on Monday found 53% of Americans now support same-sex marriage, up from 40% in 2007. As to how the federal government should handle the issue, another CNN/ORC International poll out Tuesday found 56% of the public feels the federal government should also legally recognize same-sex marriages.

CNN’s Tom Cohen and Shannon Travis contributed to this report.

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WGN Legal Analyst Terry Sullivan joins WGN Morning News

The study on gay marriage was clearly timed to coincide with the Supreme Court hearings on Proposition 8 and the defense of marriage act.

But that aside, it makes a compelling argument that rainbow couples and white weddings equal green for Illinois.

Patrick Bova and Jim Darby spent the past weekend at a wedding expo for lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender couples. But they weren’t just window shopping.

With their 50th anniversary coming up in June, the Hyde Park couple, who currently have a civil union, hope to have a summer wedding.

Those hopes hinge on either the Supreme Court making same sex unions legal across the country, or the Illinois state house approving a bill that’s already passed the state Senate.

Legalizing same sex marriage in Illinois could net the state $103 million over a three year period , according to new study from the Williams Institute at UCLA.

Of course, wedding related industries would see the majority of the cash and tourism would also get a big boost.

The study uses 2010 census numbers that show there are about 23,000 same sex couples in Illinois and it estimates that about half of them would get married if it were legal.

Those numbers may be hypothetical. But in New York City, same sex marriage is already paying dividends.

The city reported a $259 million boost from rainbow weddings in the first year they were legal, with only 8,200 marriage licenses issued to same sex couples.

However, gay marriage opponents like Laurie Higgins of the Illinois Family Institute say money shouldn’t impact laws about marriage.

This couple sees same-sex marriage as a civil right, but they don’t mind if money is the motivation for legalization.

It’s still not clear how long the Supreme Court will take to issue rulings on Proposition 8 or the defense of marriage act or even if they will make a rulings.

However the same sex marriage law that passed the state Senate is expected to get a full vote in the House.

Legal analyst, Terry Sullivan, discusses Knox trial and gay marriage.

Today marked the first of two days of arguments the Supreme Court will hear regarding the constitutionality of same-sex marriage.

Today’s hearings focused on the legality of California’s Proposition 8, which defines marriage as only between a man and a woman.

This is a historic day as it’s the first time arguments over the divisive same-sex marriage issue have been heard in the nation’s highest court.

Thousands of people on both sides of the same-sex debate stood outside the Supreme Court, making their positions known.

Although Illinois is one of the few states that allows civil unions, many members of the Chicago gay and lesbian community say that’s not enough.

Opponents of same-sex marriage bring up the point of children.

Paul Cabrio, the director of Family-PAC, an organization working to preserve traditional marriage, says kids of same sex couples are at a disadvantage because they aren’t being raised by both biological parents.

“In these cases the outcome for children in terms of lower educational level, suicide addiction are much higher,” he says.

Tom Elliott of the Center on Halstead disagrees, saying, “It’s not so much about having a mom and a dad. It’s about having two loving adults that are in a committed relationship with each other to support their children.”

Tomorrow, arguments will focus on the Defense of Marriage Act. The act forbids the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage and therefore, denies same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits.

There are currently nine states that have legalized same-sex marriage.

A decision from the Supreme Court is not expected until June.

As partisans argued pointedly over same-sex marriage outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, justices inside hinted at their disparate views on the hot-button issue — with some of them questioning whether they should consider the case at all.

What’s at stake, potentially, is whether the court extends a sweeping constitutional right for gays and lesbians to wed in all 50 states. The justices kicked off oral arguments on two different but related cases that could fundamentally alter how American law treats marriage.

“This was a deeply divided Supreme Court, and a court that seemed almost to be groping for an answer here,” said CNN Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin after following 80 minutes of arguments.

He was among those who followed the debate over California’s Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage. Voters approved the proposal 52% to 48% in November 2008, less than six months after the state Supreme Court ruled marriage is a fundamental right that must be extended to same-sex couples.

The overriding legal question in the California case, Hollingsworth v. Perry (12-144), is whether the Constitution’s 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection under the law prevents states from defining marriage as that state has.

From their questioning, it appeared evident how a few of the justices were leaning.

Four of the more liberal justices seemed at least open to the idea that same-sex marriage should be allowed in California. Three of the more conservative justices seemed aligned with the view that it should only be for a man and a woman, and it’s likely they’d be joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, who doesn’t speak at arguments.

That could leave Justice Anthony Kennedy as, has often been the case, the swing vote.

He was among those who weighed in on whether the advocacy group appointed to defend the initiative has standing to argue the case.

While admitting the law’s defenders are “not just any citizens,” Kennedy raised concerns about whether just the possibility of same-sex marriage was enough to establish they had suffered harm — a key jurisdictional hurdle allowing them to appeal in the first place.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said it is the state’s responsibility — through its elected leaders — to defend laws in court, and that private individuals could not establish “how their injury was separate from everyone else.”

If the court dismisses the appeal on the grounds its defenders don’t have the standing to defend the case in court, it may mean lower federal court rulings declaring the proposition unconstitutional would stand.

But it wouldn’t allow for a broader, final rule outlining the power of states to say who can or can’t get married.

Decisions on California, DOMA case expected in June

The justices did probe that broader legal question at times, including an exchange between pro-Proposition 8 attorney Charles Cooper and Justice Elena Kagan.

“The concern is that redefining marriage as a genderless institution will sever its abiding connection to its historic traditional procreative purposes, and it will … refocus the purpose of marriage and the definition of marriage away from the raising of children and to the emotional needs and desires … of adult couples,” Cooper argued.

To which Kagan said: “Mr. Cooper, suppose a state said that, because ‘we think that the focus of marriage really should be on procreation, we are not going to give marriage licenses anymore to any couple where both people are over the age of 55.’ Would that be constitutional?”

“No, your honor, it would not be constitutional,” Cooper replied.

Tuesday’s hearing was the first of back-to-back sessions on same-sex marriage laws.

The court will listen to arguments on Wednesday on U.S. v. Windsor, a separate challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, that — like the California law — defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

That 1996 law prevents legally married same-sex couples from getting federal benefits and privileges, like tax breaks and survivor benefits, that are extended to opposite-sex couples.

The court is unlikely to announce its decisions on both matters until June.

Andrew Pugno, general counsel for the Protect Marriage Coalition, the group defending Proposition 8, said its attorney had “credibly presented the winning case for marriage.”

“We think the hearing went very well,” he told reporters.

Attorneys representing the two couples seeking to overturn Proposition 8, meanwhile, said they couldn’t tell how the court would rule.

“We are confident where the American people are going with this,” said Theodore Olson. “We don’t know for sure what the United States Supreme Court is going to do, but we’re very, very grateful they listened, they heard, they asked hard questions, and there’s no denying where the right is.”

Spirited rallies on both sides of debate

One of the plaintiffs — Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, a Burbank, California, couple who want to marry but can’t because of Proposition 8 — contend the state is discriminating against them because of their sexuality.

“This is about our freedom and our liberty,” Katami said. “We are not trying to topple marriage. We are not trying to redefine marriage. What we are trying to say is that equality is the backbone of our country.”

This view was echoed by fellow same-sex marriage supporters, who rallied outside the court with the hope that the justices would eventually issue a broad ruling to strike down bans nationwide.

“We are not asking for anything more than our neighbors, friends and family, but certainly expect no less,” said Todd Bluntworth, who spoke with his husband and their two children.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who argued against Proposition 8, said voter-approved marriage bans “are simply unconstitutional.”

The Supreme Court has ruled more than a dozen times that marriage is a fundamental right, “and as it relates to a fundamental right, the court will hold that under the highest level of scrutiny,” Harris said.

But opponents who rallied nearby — some of them carrying signs reading, “Kids do best with a mom & dad” — urged the court to keep out of the issue and leave the decision to states.

“If you want to get married, go to one of the states that allows gay marriage,” said Carl Boyd Jr., a conservative Nashville talk-show host. “Stop trying to force your agenda down our throats. Quit trying to bully the American people with the homosexual agenda.”

Patchwork state laws

The court could historically alter how the law treats marriage, striking down laws across the country banning same-sex marriage and matching an apparent cultural shift toward acceptance of same-sex couples.

Or it could leave the current patchwork of state laws in place, choosing to let state legislatures and state courts sort it all out.

Forty-one states now forbid same-sex marriage, although nine of them allow civil partnerships. Nine other states allow same-sex marriage, and about 120,000 same-sex couples have gotten married, according to estimates.

California’s ban seems to run counter to polls that show rising support overall for same-sex marriage.

A CNN/ORC International poll released on Monday found 53% of Americans now support same-sex marriage, up from 40% in 2007. As to how the federal government should handle the issue — the subject of Wednesday’s hearing — another CNN/ORC International poll out Tuesday found 56% of the public feels the federal government should also legally recognize same-sex marriages.

The Justice Department will argue against the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law, on Wednesday.

This comes as President Barack Obama has changed positions on same-sex marriage over his political career. Now fully supportive, he’s said would strike down California’s law if he sat on the Supreme Court.

Other prominent politicians have voiced timely opinions in recent weeks, indicating the matter’s importance in 21st century American politics.

Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and possible 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, publicly backed same-sex marriage earlier this month.

The Republican party has historically backed efforts to define marriage as only between a man and a woman. But there’s been notable movement of late among Republicans, including Sen. Rob Portman’s recent shift to support same-sex marriage, which he made two years after his son revealed to him that he is gay.

“There is no putting this genie back in the bottle. It is undeniable. The shift is here, and we’re not going back,” Republican strategist and CNN contributor Ana Navarro said Sunday.
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As partisans argued pointedly over same-sex marriage outside the U.S. Supreme Court building, either hoping for or dreading a landmark decision, justices inside seemed reluctant to extend a sweeping constitutional right for gays and lesbian to wed in all 50 states.

In the first of two days of hearings on cases that have the potential to fundamentally alter how American law treats marriage, Justice Anthony Kennedy — considered the likely deciding vote on the divided court — questioned whether the case even belonged before the court.

“This was a deeply divided Supreme Court, and a court that seemed almost to be groping for an answer here,” said CNN Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin, who watched the arguments.

On the point of allowing same-sex marriage in California, Justice Elena Kagan, a liberal member of the court, asked, “What harm is there to the institution of marriage?”

But more conservative members of the court took a go-slow approach. Justice Samuel Alito said the law on same-sex marriage is too new.

“There isn’t a lot of data on its effect” on children and the institution of marriage, he said.

The 80 minutes of arguments Tuesday on California’s Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriages will be followed Wednesday by arguments on the federal Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Supporters of same-sex marriage rallied outside the Supreme Court, hoping justices would reach for a broad ruling that would strike down bans nationwide.

“We are not asking for anything more than our neighbors, friends and family, but certainly expect no less,” said Todd Bluntworth, who spoke with his husband and their two children to a crowd of supporters hoping for a historic ruling from the Supreme Court striking down laws banning same-sex marriage.

But opponents urged the court to keep out of the issue and leave the decision to states.

“If you want to get married, go to one of the states that allows gay marriage,” said Carl Boyd Jr., a conservative Nashville talk-show host. “Stop trying to force your agenda down our throats. Quit trying to bully the American people with the homosexual agenda.”

Some demonstrators carried sign reading “Kids do best with a mom & dad.”

Tuesday’s hearing involved California’s Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage.

Voters approved the proposal 52% to 48% in November 2008, less than six months after the state Supreme Court ruled that marriage is a fundamental right that must be extended to same-sex couples.

The overriding legal question is whether the 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection under the law prevents states from defining marriage as California has.

Two of the key plaintiffs are Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, a Burbank, California, couple who want to marry but can’t because of Proposition 8. They say the state is discriminating against them for their sexuality.

“Stigma is stigma. And discrimination is discrimination,” Katami told CNN.

“I think that any time there’s discrimination in the country, it needs to be addressed and it needs to be taken care of,” he said. “And that’s why we feel that anytime in our history when there’s been racial discrimination or sexual discrimination of orientation, or in particular marriage at this point, that we always bend toward the arch of equality.”

Patchwork state laws

If the court decides in their favor, it would mark a historic shift in how the law treats marriage, striking down laws across the country banning same-sex marriage and matching an apparent cultural shift toward acceptance of same-sex couples.

Or the court could leave the current patchwork of state laws in place, choosing to let state legislatures and state courts sort it all out.

Forty-one states now forbid same-sex marriage, although nine of them allow civil partnerships. Nine other states allow same-sex marriage, and about 120,000 same-sex couples have gotten married, according to estimates.

California’s bans seem to run counter to polls that show rising support overall for same-sex marriage. A CNN/ORC International poll released Monday found that 53% of Americans now support same-sex marriage, up from 40% in 2007.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who is arguing against Proposition 8, said voter-approved marriage bans “are simply unconstitutional.”

The Supreme Court has ruled more than a dozen times that marriage is a fundamental right, “and as it relates to a fundamental right, the court will hold that under the highest level of scrutiny,” Harris said.

On Wednesday, justices will hear arguments in a separate case involving the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which, like the California law, defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

The law bars the federal government from recognizing state-sanctioned same-sex marriages. It prevents legally married gay and lesbian couples from getting federal benefits and privileges, like tax breaks and survivor benefits, that are extended to opposite-sex married couples.

No immediate decision

The court is unlikely to announce its decision until June.

But people could get a sense of which way the decision will go by listening to the questions posed by Justice Anthony Kennedy, said CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

The court’s four liberal justices are likely to vote to overrule Proposition 8, he said. Four conservatives are likely to vote to keep it.

“The most likely person to give the fifth vote is Anthony Kennedy,” who previously authored two important gay rights decisions, Toobin said.

Partisans speak out

Same-sex marriage supporters say it’s time for the court to take a stand that puts all Americans on the same footing.

“This is about our equality,” Katami said. “This is about our freedom and our liberty. So we are not trying to topple marriage. We are not trying to redefine marriage. What we are trying to say is that equality is the backbone of our country.”

But supporters of Proposition 8 and DOMA say the Supreme Court should stay out of the issue and let voters decide what they want.

“Our most fundamental right in this country is the right to vote and the right to participate in the political process,” said Austin Nimocks of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian advocacy group.

“We don’t need the Supreme Court to take that right away from Americans of good faith on both sides of this issue and impose its judicial solution,” Nimocks said. “We need to leave this debate to the democratic process, which is working.”

Political positions

The Obama administration has formally expressed support for same-sex marriage in California, weighing in on the case in a brief last month. Obama, whose views on the issue have changed over his political career to full support, said he would vote to strike down the state’s law if he sat on the court.

In what some have labeled the “nine-state strategy,” the Justice Department argument is expected to center on the idea that civil union and domestic partnership laws may themselves be unconstitutional and that those states should go all the way and grant same-sex couples full marriage rights.

Other prominent politicians have expressed timely opinions in recent weeks, indicating the importance of the matter in the social context of 21st century American politics.

Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and possible 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, recorded a video for a gay rights group indicating her support.

Republicans have described cracks appearing in their party’s long-held opposition to same-sex marriage.

“There is no putting this genie back in the bottle. It is undeniable. The shift is here and we’re not going back,” Republican strategist and CNN contributor Ana Navarro said Sunday.

One prominent Republican, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, endorsed that shift this month, two years after his son revealed to him that he is gay.

The case being heard Tuesday is Hollingsworth v. Perry (12-144), dealing with Proposition 8. And coming up Wednesday is U.S. v. Windsor (12-307), which deals with the DOMA issue.
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Political analyst Park Lisnek joins WGN Morning News

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced for the first time Monday she supports marriage rights for same-sex couples, saying that “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.”

“America is at its best when we champion the freedom and dignity of every human being,” Clinton said in a video produced by the Human Rights Campaign.

The former first lady, U.S. senator, and 2008 presidential candidate had previously backed civil unions and partner benefits for same-sex couples, but had stopped short of a full endorsement for marriage. That was the position of most Democratic primary candidates that year, including President Barack Obama.

During her tenure as secretary of state, Clinton avoided taking political positions, as is customary for the role.

Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, wrote in an opinion article last week that he supported the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, the law he signed in 1996 that defines marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman. It also denies federal benefits to same-sex couples in the nine states where same-sex couples can now legally wed.

In the video released Monday, Hillary Clinton said her time traveling the world as America’s top diplomat “inspired and challenged me to think anew about who we are, and the values we represent to the world.”

Those values, she said, must include full equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans to marry.

“Full and equal citizens and deserve the rights of citizenship,” she said. “That includes marriage. That’s why I support marriage for lesbian and gay couples. I support it personally and as a matter of policy and law.”

Clinton had previously hinted at her support for marriage rights, speaking favorably of New York’s law permitting marriages between same-sex couples. It also brings her in line with major figures in the Democratic Party, including Obama, who came out in support of marriage rights last May.

Democrats also included a plank in their party platform at last summer’s convention supporting same-sex marriage.

Clinton’s public backing of same-sex marriage comes as the Supreme Court prepares to tackle the issue this spring. Last year the high court agreed to hear two constitutional challenges to state and federal laws dealing with the recognition of gay and lesbian couples to legally wed.

Oral arguments will be held on March 26 and 27, with a ruling by late June.

In her video, Clinton called marriage “a fundamental building block of our society,” and with a knowing laugh, called marriage “a great joy and yes, a great responsibility.”

“A few years ago, Bill and I celebrated as our own daughter married the love of her life, and I wish every parent that same joy,” she said.

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