Debate over same-sex marriage not quite over
Washington — Same-sex marriage is the law of the land after the Supreme Court's landmark ruling Friday, so what's next?
One certainty is that legal, political and moral debates over legal rights and protections based on sexual orientation are far from over.
Some business owners will continue citing religious reasons for withholding goods and services to same-sex couples. County clerks and magistrates may resign, or refuse on religious grounds to marry same-sex couples.
"In Michigan, the question is, will the state amend its anti-discrimination laws to protect members of the LGBT community?" said Samuel Bagenstos, who teaches civil rights and constitutional law at the University of Michigan Law School.
"Key issues we're going to continue to see discussed are about discrimination in the workplace, and in private businesses and in housing."
No federal anti-discrimination law applies to sexual orientation, and Michigan is among 29 states that have no such law on the books.
"That's why this march must go on and why this cause will endure, until all Americans — regardless of sexual orientation — are afforded the equal rights, equal treatment and equal opportunity they deserve," U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Friday, promising to "keep up the fight" on behalf of gay people.
Gov. Rick Snyder said Michigan state government would follow the ruling, and state agencies would make the "necessary changes" to ensure full compliance.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said he's giving up the challenge. He said it's up to the legislature and governor to change laws to conform with the Supreme Court ruling. Asked if there were ways to get around the ruling, like limiting marriage to religious officiants as some in the legislature suggested, he said no.
"This is the final word. ... This is the law of the land," Schuette told reporters Friday in Lansing. He declined to speculate why the state lost its case, but defended his decision to pursue it, saying it was his obligation to defend the state constitution.
Among the practical implications of the ruling are that same-sex spouses will now be eligible for full Social Security and veterans benefits in every state. In Michigan, gay public employees may access employment benefits previously restricted to legally married couples.
Married same-sex couples in Michigan may now adopt one another's children and benefit from all the other protections the law automatically grants to families of legally married couples.
Robert Sedler, a constitutional scholar at Wayne University School of Law, said it will take some time to sort out what the High Court's decision means for state laws that appear to conflict with the ruling. One recent example is the legislation allowing adoption agencies to refuse service to same-sex couples on religious grounds.
"That is going to be subject to challenge. They can't put state-controlled children with a private agency that discriminates against same-sex couples," Sedler said Friday. "That's one of the things that comes out of today's decision."
The next wave of legal challenges around the country will likely arise in jurisdictions that do not expressly recognize sexual orientation or identity in their employment statutes, and in states attempting to carve out religious exemptions for certain employers, said Diane M. Soubly, an Ann Arbor attorney who authored 16 friend-of-the-court briefs in various gay-marriage cases.
One category left in limbo after Friday's ruling are Michigan couples living in domestic partnerships or civil unions, which aren't recognized by the state and also weren't addressed by the Supreme Court.
"I don't know what's going to happen in Michigan to people like domestic partners, folks in civil unions from other states — we're trying to figure that out in terms of what the ramifications will be," said Soubly, who specializes in employment and labor law and works on employer benefit plans.
"My thought is probably since they have to grant licenses to same-sex couples, there will now be people who argue, there's no longer an absolute bar, so same-sex couples should now be forced to marry to get certain benefits."
In his dissent from the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts worried about the "hard questions" likely to arise when religious folk exercise their beliefs in ways that conflict with the right to same-sex marriage. What about a religious college that offers married-student housing only to opposite-sex couples, he said.
And Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. acknowledged during oral arguments that the tax exemptions of some religious institutions would be in question if they opposed same-sex marriage.
"There is little doubt that these and similar questions will soon be before this court," Roberts wrote.