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How The High Court Has Changed The Legal Landscape For Same-Sex Marriage

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The U.S. Supreme Court has issued a ruling this morning saying that same-sex marriage is allowed, legal across the United States of America. Joining us to look at the legalities of this case and what it means, we have Richard Primus on the line. He's a constitutional law expert at the University of Michigan Law School and a former clerk for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He's also been cited by Supreme Court justices in their opinions on past cases. Welcome to the program.

RICHARD PRIMUS: Happy to be here.

GREENE: Let me start, if I may, with the state where you are right now, the state of Michigan, because I feel like it might give us sort of a case study into what will be happening in the weeks, months, maybe years ahead because gay marriage, as of yesterday, you know, banned in the state of Michigan. How do things now change?

PRIMUS: Well, pretty soon same-sex couples will start applying for marriage licenses, and they'll get them. In the last few days, the clerks in the state of Michigan have been preparing. As of yesterday, they still didn't have forms that were gender-neutral or could be used for same-sex marriages, but given how quickly we reproduce documents in the year 2015, that's not going to be an obstacle for long. There are probably going be long lines to marry here in Michigan very soon. A year ago, the court with jurisdiction for Michigan legalized same-sex marriage briefly here, and there were celebratory weddings on the streets in front of the courthouses for a day or so until that decision was stayed. Now, very quickly, it's all going to come back.

GREENE: And I guess one of the other questions here, I mean, even as Michigan works to allow same-sex couples to be married, if you are a same-sex couple who married in another state, you may perhaps live in the state of Michigan, that must change, you know, how you're treated now by the state in terms of benefits, in terms of hospital visitation.

PRIMUS: It ought to change it immediately and thoroughly. The Supreme Court today held both that states that recognize marriage at all must recognize it for same-sex couples and that states must recognize same-sex marriages conducted elsewhere. So if you had a same-sex marriage conducted, let's say in Iowa a year ago and you've been living in Michigan, you're now married in Michigan without the need to get married again.

GREENE: Richard Primus, if you are a person who is not comfortable with same-sex marriage - maybe it is because of your church, maybe it's because of sort of how you view the institution of marriage - how might you be able to react to this decision? Are there, you know, are there things that you could push for to sort of represent your opinion on this matter?

PRIMUS: Well, there are many things that you could do, depending on what kind of idea you're trying to express. One thing that some people may think about is of course to try to amend the U.S. Constitution. If the goal is to go back to the condition where only opposite-sex partners could marry, constitutional amendment is really what remains, but that's not going to happen because mainstream American opinion no longer opposes same-sex marriage. So the question really is what to do to deal with an unwelcome reality if that's your perspective, and there are lots of possibilities. One is you can say that's their business. That's between them and the state. It doesn't have really anything to do with me. I think one thing to do is to ask what are the reasons for which I'm uncomfortable with same-sex marriage? If they're religious reasons, if they're reasons between me and God, then it should be of some comfort that the Supreme Court doesn't have jurisdiction over God. The Supreme Court says who's married in the eyes of the law, that is - right? - in Caesar's Court and not in God's. That's what the Supreme Court has said. Churches recognize the marriages that they recognize according to their religious dictates, and that can still be a separate thing.

The last thing, though - and I think this is really important - is to recognize that the proportion of Americans who are seriously uncomfortable with same-sex marriage is diminishing at a remarkable pace. Even today, most of the dissenting justices bent over backwards in their opinions to make clear that they are not disparaging same-sex marriage. In fact, the chief justice ends his dissent by saying if you think that same-sex marriage is a good thing, and it may well be, there is something to be celebrated today, even though he doesn't think it was the right legal decision.

GREENE: That was coming from Chief Justice John Roberts who dissented in his opinion, but it was important, I guess, for him to point that out. Richard Primus is a constitutional law expert at the University of Michigan Law School. Thank you so much for coming on the program. We appreciate it.

PRIMUS: Happy to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.