Washington (AP) — Gay marriage supporters see 41 reasons to fret over the Supreme Court's decision to take up the case of California's ban on same-sex unions.
While nine states allow same-sex partners to marry, or will soon, 41 states do not. Of those, 30 have written gay marriage bans into their state constitutions.
That fact is worrisome to those who firmly believe there is a constitutional right to marry, regardless of sexual orientation, but who also know that the Supreme Court does not often get too far ahead of the country on hot-button social issues.
"Mindful of history, I can't help but be concerned," said Mary Bonauto, director of the Civil Rights Project at Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders and a leader in the state-by-state push for marriage equality.
Bonauto was speaking before the court decided on Friday to take up cases on California's constitutional ban on gay marriage and a federal law that denies to gay Americans who are legally married the favorable tax treatment and a range of health and pension benefits otherwise available to married couples.
Interracial marriage still was illegal in 16 states in 1967 before the high court outlawed race-based state marriage bans.
In 1954, when the court issued its landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, 17 states had formally segregated school systems.
Cornell University law professor Michael Dorf said those cases illustrate a widespread misperception about the justices.
"There is a commonly held but inaccurate view that what the Supreme Court does is to impose its views on the country. It very rarely does that. Much more frequently, it will take a view that is either a majority in some place or a majority of elite opinion and speed up acceptance," said Dorf, who was a Supreme Court law clerk to Justice Anthony Kennedy.