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History-Making Week for Marriage Equality at the Supreme Court -- The Stakes Are Enormous

Here is what you need to know about two cases hitting the Supreme Court this week.

Millions of Americans will be focused on the Supreme Court this week, as the court takes up the question of whether same-sex couples have a right to be legally married, or whether state and federal governments have the right to discriminate against same-sex couples who are or want to be married. 

The stakes are enormous. “These cases present the court with an unprecedented opportunity to clarify that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are entitled to equal protection under the laws of the nation and of the states, including the laws regarding marriage,” says Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “What the court holds in these cases will have a huge impact on the lives of gay people and our families for years to come.”

That’s why opponents of marriage equality, led by the National Organization for Marriage with the support of religious right groups and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, are raising their rhetoric to apocalyptic levels and mobilizing their forces for a “March for Marriage” on Tuesday. The bishops have been pushing priests to read letters encouraging people to join the March, and they have highlighted the new pope’s involvement in a similar (unsuccessful) march in Argentina when that country was considering marriage equality. Pro-equality forces will have their own rallies near the Supreme Court on Tuesday and Wednesday, including an interfaith worship service early Tuesday morning.

The big mo (mentum)

There is no question that pro-equality forces have momentum on their side. After a string of losses at the ballot box, equality backers won all four questions before state voters in 2012. President Obama was reelected after having shifted his support to marriage equality, and in his second inaugural address, he said: “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law. For if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.” 

And there was more momentum in the weeks before the oral arguments. A new national poll showed that support for allowing same-sex couples to get legally married had risen to 58 percent. A conservative Republican senator, Rob Portman, announced his support for equality based on his wish that his gay son have the ability to get married. A pro-equality event at the Conservative Political Action Conference out-drew an anti-marriage equality panel. And on Thursday, the American Academy of Pediatrics, after conducting a four-year study, endorsed marriage equality, saying: “There is an emerging consensus, based on extensive review of the scientific literature, that children growing up in households headed by gay men or lesbians are not disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents.”

While political and cultural momentum does not necessarily change the legal questions before the court, everyone agrees that justices are attuned to public opinion. Freedom to Marry’s Evan Wolfson, chief strategist of the marriage equality movement, told supporters last week that momentum is important. "Even before the Supreme Court announced it would hear two marriage cases this year, we mapped out a plan and got to work to do everything we could to maximize our chances of winning. We want to be sure to continue making the same strong case for the freedom to marry in the court of public opinion as our advocates will be making in the court of law."

That’s also why equality proponents are pushing hard to get more legislative victories on marriage before the court rules in June, with campaigns active in Illinois, Minnesota, Delaware, and Rhode Island.

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