One is in an interracial marriage, which would have been illegal in his state only 20 years before his wedding.
As the Supreme Court prepares to consider the American tradition of marriage, the justices display a wide range of personal choices reflective of the modern experience.
In the court’s first full examination of same-sex marriage, the unifying theme of those defending traditional marriage is that government has an important interest in promoting marriage among heterosexual couples because of their reproductive ability.
But the issue comes before a court where four of the nine justices have never married or have had marriages that did not produce biological offspring.
Volumes of briefs have been filed in a pair of potentially historic cases raising issues that personally resonate with the justices — the role of adoptive parents, the place of couples unable to or uninterested in having children, and possible parallels with laws that once prohibited marriages between the races.
Their personal choices look “just like the rest of America,” said Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University and an expert on marriage whose work is cited in briefs filed in the cases scheduled for March 26 and 27.
The issue of same-sex marriage brings to the court questions of a state’s freedom to define and limit marriage and how far the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection extends. Justices say they must look past their personal lives when deciding such weighty issues.
But the past has shown that each of the nine also brings a unique set of life experiences to the work. Justice Clarence Thomas has often written opinions with a racial perspective none of his colleagues share. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has pointed out how sex discrimination is practiced in the real world. And Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., a former prosecutor, often provides a lawman’s view on criminal justice issues.
As the court confronts the rapidly changing status of same-sex marriage, it will be considering two cases.
In the first, the issue is California’s Proposition 8, a 2008 voter-approved state constitutional amendment that restricts marriage to opposite-sex couples. The ban, enacted after the state’s high court decided gay couples must be allowed to marry, has been ruled unconstitutional by lower courts.
The other case concerns the Defense of Marriage Act, passed by Congress in 1996 to prohibit recognition by the federal government of same-sex marriages performed in those places where it is legal. There were none when the law was passed, but same-sex marriages are now legal in nine states, including Maryland, and the District of Columbia.
The act has been deemed unlawful by lower courts, which said it was unconstitutional to extend federal benefits to one class of legally married couples but not to another.