Stakes high for some as Supreme Court hears same-sex marriage cases

By on March 25th, 2013

Monica Marin reported for WUFT-FM.

Shawn Janetzke hopes to get married some day.

The 19-year-old UF student identifies himself as gay and hopes the cases the Supreme Court is hearing this week will allow him to get married in the future.

The two cases the Supreme Court will hear on Tuesday and Wednesday are about California’s Proposition 8, which states marriage is between a man and a woman, and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which also bans same-sex marriage.

Although the cases are similar, one deals with federal law and the other deals with state law.

Joseph Jackson, a UF Levin College of Law professor and associate director of the Center on Children and Families, said with the system of federalism the United States has in place, states can enact laws on state and local matters. The federal government is limited to matters dictated by the constitution, like National Defense and interstate commerce, he said.

Jackson said laws involving marriage and divorce are under state jurisdiction.

“Congress does not have the power to legislate on domestic relations,” he said.

California is one of the 29 states that ban same-sex marriage, according to CNN. Florida is also one of those states.

In Florida, marriage is defined as the union of one man and one woman. That ruling was adopted in 2008, according to the Florida Constitution.

Jackson said if Proposition 8 were to be overruled, it has the potential to affect Florida.

He said if the court strikes the ruling down in a broadly-worded opinion, the decision could be recognized by other states, forcing them to change their same-sex marriage policies. If it is instead struck down in a narrowly-worded opinion, there is no direct implication for Florida, he said.

UF Visiting Law Professor Darren Hutchinson agreed.

“The question is would it go narrow or broad,” he said.

DOMA, though, only affects federal law and regulation. For example, if the ruling were to be overturned, those who are legally married would be able to receive federal benefits like Social Security and income tax.

Because Florida doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, it would not be affected by the court’s decision.

Joe Antonelli, the founder and president of the Gainesville Community Alliance, said it is a “historic moment” and one that he has been looking forward to for about 40 years.

“I really believe that history is on our side,” Antonelli said.

He said the cases are a question of the constitution.

John Stemberger, the president and general counsel of the Florida Family Policy Council, said both cases are constitutional.

He said if the court decides to overturn a ruling that several states have already approved, the court could suffer legitimacy problems.

“I’m very optimistic that if they follow the law, and if they follow good constitutional principles there is no way that they could find a fundamental constitutional right for anyone to marry,” he said.

Historically, Hutchinson said, the court doesn’t tend to make decisions affecting the nation at large.

Janetzke is hoping that isn’t the case. He said the court has a lot of variability when it comes to this ruling.

“Either way it’s a positive step for marriage equality and equality in general,” he said.

The decision likely will not be decided until the Supreme Court’s session concludes in June.

Carolyn Brewster reported for WUFT-TV.

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