UMass legal and economics experts believe Supreme Court will rule in favor of same-sex marriage

Last modified: Friday, June 26, 2015

AMHERST — With the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage expected soon, two University of Massachusetts Amherst legal and public policy experts are ready to call it now — both believe the court will effectively legalize same-sex marriage across the nation.

The court’s ruling on the same-sex marriage question is expected Friday or Monday. On Thursday, the court issued rulings that upheld nationwide tax subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, and a second that upheld an interpretation of the Fair Housing Act used to fight housing discrimination.

UMass Director of Legal Studies Paul Collins and Director for the Center of Public Policy and Administration Lee Badgett weighed in on the court’s consideration of the same-sex marriage issue this week in interviews with the Gazette.

Collins, whose research focuses on Supreme Court decision-making, predicted the court’s four liberal justices — Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor — would decide to strike down state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage, and they likely would be joined by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and possibly Chief Justice John G. Roberts.

“They might not want to be on the wrong side of history on this one — that’s my impression,” Collins said.

The Supreme Court heard arguments in April in Obergefell v. Hodges, which considers whether a state law banning same-sex marriage in Ohio is unconstitutional. Cases involving similar laws in Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee were joined with the Ohio case.

In addition to ruling on whether a state law banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, the court will rule on the question of whether states must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

Collins said the court could make a decision that leaves both sides of the same-sex marriage debate unhappy — by allowing same-sex marriage bans while forcing states to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

He said that is not very likely, however. “I don’t think they would have taken the case to punt on the issue,” Collins said. “My sense is we are going to get a definitive ruling.”

Collins explained that when Kennedy was a circuit court judge, he was progressive on LGBT rights.

He added that Kennedy’s history of comfort expanding LGBT rights results from his interpretation of the meaning of liberty, which he believes extends to the personal choice of sexual orientation.

The legality of same-sex marriages has increased significantly in recent years in individual states, but without a Supreme Court ruling, it might take decades for some of the holdout states to legalize it, Collins said.

There are 15 states which have not already legalized same-sex marriage that could be affected by the court’s decision, according to Badgett.

Badgett, an economist by training, was a key witness during the 2010 California Proposition 8 trial, which examined the legality of same-sex marriage in that state.

She said the economic benefits of a decision in favor of same-sex marriage were clear.

“A lot of couples will have the security of being able to marry and that will be recognized by employers and by the federal government, and they will have new rights and benefits and new obligations,” Badgett said.

What happened in Massachusetts when same-sex marriage was allowed in 2004 and in states that subsequently allowed same-sex marriage is that couples spent money to get married, she said.

“It is good for local economies, and state budgets will actually be a bit better off because same-sex couples can marry,” she said.

She said the fact that a majority of states already allow same-sex marriage is a good sign that the outcome will be in favor of same-sex marriage. Badgett explained that when laws against interracial marriage were invalidated by the Supreme Court in 1967, a majority of states already had laws allowing interracial marriage.

“Already, a tipping point has been reached” in the same way involving same-sex marriages, she said.

Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at


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