Next In The Gay-Marriage Debate: Religious Liberty

Feb 3, 2015

A federal judge's ruling opened the door for same sex weddings in Florida, like this one at St. Petersburg City Hall on January 6th, 2015.
Credit City of St Pete/flickr

Same-sex marriage is now legal in three dozen states, including Florida. The U.S. Supreme Court may issue a landmark ruling soon that will impact the rest of the country.

Florida’s voter-approved 2008 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage was struck down by federal Judge Robert Hinkle as unconstitutional.

Federal courts -- and ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court -- interpret whether statutes violate the federal Constitution. Hinkle found that Florida’s gay-marriage ban was a violation of the 14th Amendment’s due process clause.

“The will of the people doesn’t trump anyone’s constitutional rights. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land,” says Florida State University law professor Courtney Cahill. “So, even if the majority would like a certain law to be in place, it’s by no means constitutional simply because that’s what the people want.”

Cahill says regardless of how the justices rule on same-sex marriage, it won’t be the end of the story:

"Even though the Supreme Court might rule, and I think will rule in favor of marriage equality later this year, that doesn’t mean that the people of the United States couldn’t amend the federal Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. [But] I highly doubt that’s going to happen.

A narrative that’s already unfolding in several states is the conflict between marriage equality on the one hand and religious freedom and free speech on the other. There is a wedding-cake maker in Colorado, which recognizes same-sex marriage now, but he says that he doesn’t want to make cakes for same-sex couples. There’s an anti-discrimination law in Colorado that tells him he must serve same-sex couples, and he is arguing in response that he has religious objections against same-sex marriage.

There’s another case in Vermont where the owner of an inn didn’t want to have a same-sex marriage ceremony. There’s another one in New York.

So there are going to be lots of these cases throughout the United States, and I would say that the religious liberty-marriage equality conflict is going to be the next wave of litigation that we’re going to be seeing."