News / USA

US Supreme Court Faces Key Test on Gay Rights

Plaintiff Edith Windsor speaks to reporters in Washington, March 27, 2013
Plaintiff Edith Windsor speaks to reporters in Washington, March 27, 2013
The issue of same-sex marriage has been front and center in Washington this week.  The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two cases that could have a profound impact on the legal and political acceptability of gay marriage around the country.

The two Supreme Court cases on gay marriage drew thousands of peaceful demonstrators, many of whom seemed to be aware that history could be in the making.

Dominic Parisi and his husband, Dan Zimmerman, stood on the court steps to show their support for gay marriage. Parisi says the show of support in front of the court sends a message to government leaders in Washington.

“I see the country going much faster than the court.  But then you can see our sign.  We have been together for 29 years," he said. "Actually, I’ve been going faster than the court for many years, so I think it’s time for the court to catch up.”

Zimmerman says the push for gay rights in the United States has been a grassroots effort.

“I think basically that the people are going to have to drag the politicians after them.  I am surprised that the country has reached this point, but proud that we have,” he said.

Recent public opinion polls show a dramatic shift on gay marriage over the past several years.  Some recent surveys show support for gay marriage at well beyond 50 percent.

Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown sees parallels with the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

“We are in the midst of a change in attitudes towards gay rights in this country not dissimilar to the change that occurred in the 1960s toward African Americans,” he said.

But even with the shift in public opinion, significant numbers of Americans remain resistant to the idea of same-sex marriage.

That reluctance was on display during the recent Supreme Court arguments over California’s ban on gay marriage, known as Proposition 8.

Related video report by Michael Bowman:

Gay Marriage Gets Second Supreme Court Airingi
X
March 27, 2013 11:11 PM
For a second consecutive day, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on same-sex marriage, one of the most contentious issues facing the nation. Tuesday, the court examined whether gay people have a right to marry. Wednesday, justices considered the constitutionality of a law barring the federal government from recognizing same-sex unions. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.


Several conservative members of the high court approached the issue with caution, including Justice Samuel Alito.

“You want us to step in and render a decision based on an assessment of the effects of this institution, which is newer than cellphones or the Internet,” Alito said.

Even as the court heard arguments inside, hundreds of gay marriage opponents marched outside the court, determined to present their view that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

“We are trying to communicate the message that the issue here is not about the desires of adults but it should be about the needs of children," said Peter Sprigg, who is with the Family Research Council, a conservative activist group in Washington. "Marriage exists for the benefit of children, not to satisfy the desires of adults.”

  • Plaintiff Edith Windsor looks to supporters in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, March 27, 2013.
  • A supporter of traditional marriage rallies in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, March 27, 2013.
  • Demonstrators chant outside the Supreme Court in Washington as the court heard arguments on California's Proposition 8, March 26, 2013.
  • A demonstrator holds a bible while marching outside the Supreme Court in Washington as the court heard arguments on California's Proposition 8, March 26, 2013.
  • Plaintiff attorneys Theodore Olson, right, and David Boies, meet with the media outside the Supreme Court in Washington after the court heard arguments on California's Proposition 8, March 26, 2013.
  • Anti-Proposition 8 protesters are shadowed by a rainbow banner in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, March 26, 2013.
  • Demonstrators stand outside the Supreme Court in Washington as the court hears arguments on California's Proposition 8, March 26, 2013.

But younger Americans in particular seem to be accepting gay marriage and that could have an impact on society far more sweeping than anything the Supreme Court might decide on the current cases.

Rachel, a college student in Washington, joined gay marriage supporters in front of the Supreme Court.

“Even conservative friends my age are still, for the most part, for gay marriage and it is just such a non-issue for people of my generation,” she said.

Support for same-sex marriage in the United States, 2003-2013.Support for same-sex marriage in the United States, 2003-2013.
x
Support for same-sex marriage in the United States, 2003-2013.
Support for same-sex marriage in the United States, 2003-2013.
The nine-member high court is generally split between a conservative bloc and a more liberal bloc, with Justice Anthony Kennedy often the deciding vote in 5-4 rulings.

Legal experts say several of the justices seemed reluctant to issue a sweeping ruling in the case of California’s gay marriage ban, which has been struck down by a lower court.

The second case before the court involves a 1996 law known as the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as solely between a man and a woman.  The law also prevents gay couples from receiving a range of federal benefits that go to married heterosexuals.

The plaintiff in that case is 83-year-old Edie Windsor.  She was forced to pay federal taxes on the estate she inherited from her wife, Thea.  But it is a tax that heterosexual spouses never have to pay.

Windsor spoke to reporters after the hearing about the changes she has seen as a gay American.  

“And I think it just grew to where we were human beings like anybody else," she said. "I mean you guys, I’m talking to you freely.  I’d have been hiding in a closet 10 years ago!”

Supreme Court rulings in both gay marriage cases are expected before the end of June.  But no matter the outcome, same-sex marriage supporters who demonstrated at the court said this week will be remembered as a landmark moment in the struggle for equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans.

You May Like

Islamic State Survivor: A Yazidi Girl's Tale

Sarah Said Haydar, captured a year ago while fleeing Islamic State onslaught in northern Iraq, was so traumatized by militants, she sought to end her own life More

EU, US Applaud Kosovo Law on Special Court

Joint statement says lawmakers' decision to address allegations of war crimes 'demonstrated their commitment to the rule of law and to honor international agreements' More

ASEAN Ministers to Push for S. China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Tradei
X
Robert Carmichael
August 04, 2015 3:07 PM
Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Trade

Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Growing Number of E. Jerusalem Palestinians Seek Israeli Citizenship

Most Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have long rejected the option of full Israeli citizenship, seeing it as a betrayal to their political cause - the formation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. But as that dream remains elusive, more and more Palestinians are applying for Israeli citizenship. Zlatica Hoke reports the decision is hard for many Palestinians who say they have to be pragmatic about it.
Video

Video With No Money, More Students, African Universities Struggle

Academics from around the African continent converged in Johannesburg last week for the African Universities Summit, a chance to tackle some of the major issues facing higher education in Africa today. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Wisconsin's Voter ID Law Still Mired In Controversy

Voter ID laws have sparked controversy across the US. More than 30 states enacted laws requiring citizens to show identification before they vote. Against fierce opposition, the state of Wisconsin recently enacted one the most restrictive voter ID laws in country. As Jeff Swicord reports, no one can predict its impact as the 2016 election nears.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Hailed as Highly Effective

At last, there's a way to end the suffering from the Ebola epidemic that has ravaged West Africa for more than a year. Researchers say the vaccine is so effective, there may never be a major outbreak of Ebola again. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs