Obergefell v. Hodges, Tanco v. Haslam, DeBoer v. Snyder, & Bourke v. Beshear were argued on April 28, 2015. The Court consolidated these four cases and assigned two and a half hours of argument that day.
These cases are about whether states are required to license same-sex marriages or to recognize lawful same-sex marriages performed in other states. In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that one part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment and the federal government had to treat same-sex married couples the same as all other married couples. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require states to do the same? Moreover, does the Fourteenth Amendment require that all states permit marriages between two people of the same sex?
The same-sex marriage cases deal with a current and very controversial issue in American life. Although public opinion about same-sex marriage has shifted dramatically over the past decade, Americans are still deeply divided about both the policy and the legal aspects of same-sex marriage. This can be a sensitive topic to deal with in class, but it is also relevant, accessible, and timely. By conducting a moot court, you can focus your students on the constitutional arguments—that is, not whether it is a good or bad idea to allow same-sex marriage, but rather, whether the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution requires it. These cases provide a venue for teaching about the history and interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment, which promised equal protection of the laws to all. The Supreme Court has never definitely said how the Fourteenth Amendment should be applied when it comes to gay and lesbian people. An element of federalism also comes into play—traditionally, marriage laws are set by the states, and many argue that the issue should be decided state by state.
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