Editor’s Note: In April, the Supreme Court of the United States heard oral arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges, a case that likely will decide whether same-sex marriage is legal nationwide. Deliberations are underway, with a decision expected sometime in June. Ahead of that ruling, we posed six questions about the case and what leaders should know to Richard Hammar, senior editor of Church Law & Tax Report and ChurchLawAndTax.com.
To date, 36 states and the District of Columbia have recognized the legal rights of same-sex couples to marry. If the Supreme Court does the same in June, as many expect it will, what will change?
Should the Supreme Court decide there is a constitutionally protected right for same-sex couples to marry, it will affirm the laws and court decisions of states that already recognize such a right and it will overturn the laws of the remaining states that define marriage as a union between a man and woman only.
You have followed this issue closely for several years now. What have you learned?
Most state laws and court rulings sanctioning same-sex marriage contain a very specific religious exemption for clergy. The exemptions say any clergy who oppose same-sex marriage based on their sincerely held religious beliefs may choose not to officiate same-sex wedding ceremonies.
Do you expect the Supreme Court to include a similar exemption with its ruling next month, should it recognize a constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry?
Yes. And others do, too. Douglas Laycock, one of the country’s premier constitutional scholars, supports same-sex marriage rights, but in a brief submitted to the Supreme Court advocating the rights of same-sex couples to marry, he also implored the Court to provide a definitive clergy exemption.