The Obama administration late Thursday filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court urging the justices to strike down California’s gay marriage ban.
The administration’s controversial move marks the first time a U.S. president has called on the high court to redefine marriage as we know it: a legal union between one man and one woman.
Although the friend-of-the-court brief is not legally binding, the government’s opinion is sure to carry weight with the Supreme Court when it hears oral arguments on California’s Proposition 8 in late March. In addition, the brief outlines a broad legal argument that could ultimately nullify similar traditional marriage standards in states across the country.
California currently gives gay couples all the benefits of marriage through civil unions or domestic partnership, but doesn’t give them the freedom to wed, as that would mean literally redefining the word “marriage.”
The administration’s brief argues that in allowing same-sex couples the right to form legal partnerships, California has already acknowledged that gay relationships bear the same hallmarks as heterosexual ones.
"They establish homes and lives together, support each other financially, share the joys and burdens of raising children, and provide care through illness and comfort at the moment of death," the administration’s lawyers wrote.
Obama's position, if embraced by the court, likely would result in same-sex “marriage” becoming legal in the seven other states with laws similar to California’s: Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, and Rhode Island.
Although the administration’s brief demonstrates the president’s strong support for gay “marriage,” it stops short of calling on the Supreme Court to declare all marriage bans unconstitutional. Even if the justices agree with the administration’s argument, states would still be free to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman, at least for now.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the Prop 8 case on March 26. The next day, the court will consider a challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Last week, the Obama administration, which declined to defend the law, filed a brief asking the court to declare part of the measure unconstitutional. If the court agrees, the federal government would be able to confer benefits like tax breaks on same-sex couples “married” in states that allow the unions.