This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether gay people have a constitutional right to marriage. The case could lead to the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, or a continuation of the status quo in which gay unions are recognized on a state-by-state basis.
At the heart of the case are same-sex couples barred from civil marriage in their home states, including Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer. The couple is raising four adopted children and a foster child near Detroit, Michigan - one of a dwindling number of states where same-sex couples cannot legally wed.
Despite sharing a home and bearing shared responsibility for five young children, the state of Michigan treats them as two single, cohabitating adults. That status not only denigrates their relationship, it places them at a legal disadvantage that can have real consequences should an emergency arise, according to DeBoer.
“We spend family time together. We teach the kids to do chores. We teach the kids to ride bikes,” she said. “You know, there's no difference in our family. The only difference is, is who, who we love and that shouldn't be a reason to not treat us the same and not give us the same legal rights as everybody else.”
DeBoer and Rowse are plaintiffs in a case that will be argued before the Supreme Court Tuesday. At issue: are state bans on same-sex marriage constitutional, and must states recognize gay unions performed in other states?
Saturday, opponents of gay marriage rallied on Washington’s National Mall.
“We came here because, as Christians, we want the will of God to be followed. Couples should consist of a woman and a man,” said demonstrator Walter Morales, speaking in Spanish. “It can't be a man and a man.”
A similar sentiment was expressed by demonstrator James Birlinski, who wore a beret with a Christian cross sewed on. "It's in the Bible,” he said. “God says it (marriage) is between man and a woman, and the Supreme Court has no authority to redefine it.”
Such voices are increasingly in the minority. Polls show more and more Americans backing same-sex marriage rights -- 61-percent in a recent survey.
Meanwhile, gay people have won a string of victories in the courts, at the ballot box, and in state legislatures, with about three-fourths of Americans now living in states where same-sex marriage is legal.
Two years ago, the Supreme Court struck down a federal law preventing the U.S. government from recognizing gay unions, and last year the court declined to intervene after lower courts struck down bans in five states.
Some legal scholars believe the Supreme Court already has telegraphed its ultimate intention regarding same-sex marriage, and that the current legal patchwork of states allowing or banning the practice will not endure.
“We have now absurd situations in which a (gay) couple marries in one state legally. They move to another state where it isn’t legal, not married for state law purposes even though they are for federal purposes,” said Georgetown University law professor Nan Hunter. “I think the writing is on the wall. I think almost everyone believes that it is just a matter of time before gay couples can marry anywhere in the United States.”
What will Rowse and DeBoer do if the Supreme Court rules in their favor later this year?
“Big wedding to plan,” they said in unison.
“Really big wedding to plan,” added Rowse.