The U.S. Supreme Court has at least four options in each of the two same-sex marriage cases it is expected to rule on late this month, according to experts, including Andrew Coan, a UW-Madison assistant professor of law.

• In a challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which limits federal marriage laws and benefits to “a legal union of one man and one woman,” the court could dismiss the case or uphold DOMA, neither of which is considered likely. The court is expected to overturn a key part of DOMA, extending federal benefits to gay married couples, solely or mostly to those who live in states that allow same-sex marriage.

The justices could argue that DOMA tramples on states’ rights or say the law violates the principle of equal protection. Split decisions are possible, which would limit the ruling’s legal significance.

• In a case about California’s Proposition 8, which withdrew the right to same-sex marriage, the court could dismiss the case on procedural grounds, which “is where the smart money is going at this point,” Coan said. That means gay marriages likely would resume in the state.

The court could uphold the ban, which appears unlikely.

If the justices strike down the ban, the ruling could apply only to California, to another six states that grant gay couples marriage-like rights or to all states. Among these options, the California-only decision seems most likely.


David Wahlberg is the health and medicine reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.