The practice is now legal in a majority of states, and, until recently, marriage equality had won a string of rulings in federal appeals courts.
That changed in November when the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld same-sex marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. That ruling conflicted with others, creating a split and inviting Supreme Court intervention.
The high court accepted that invitation the afternoon of Jan. 16. In a brief order, the court announced it will hear arguments in the four cases from the 6th Circuit. The quartet of legal challenges will be consolidated into one case that will most likely carry the name of the Ohio ruling - Obergefell v. Hodges.
In its order, the high court said arguments will be limited to two questions: Does the 14th Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex? And does the 14th Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed in another state? (Passed in the post-Civil War era, the 14th Amendment, among other things, guarantees “equal protection of the laws” for all citizens.)
Americans United issued a statement urging the justices to resolve the issue by applying the separation of church and state. For too long, AU opined, the issue of marriage equality has been bogged down by religious fundamentalists making explicitly sectarian arguments that appeal to the Bible or dictates by church leaders.
“At times, the discussion over marriage equality in this country has sounded more like a debate among medieval clerics than deliberations in a modern, secular democracy,” said Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn. “Opponents of same-sex marriage too often point to holy books and pronouncements by religious leaders to make their case. That might fly in a theocracy, but it should have no weight in America.”
More: Same-Sex Showdown