“The Respect for Marriage Act, it seems unlikely to get far in Congress. Instead, legal experts and gay advocates say, their better course is through the courts.”

May 12th, 2012

But I thought the current liberal meme was that of judicial restraint! The magic should happen in the legislature, and the courts should stand by idly. No? Maybe I didn’t get the memo now that SSM is in play.

And for the first time, there is a potentially powerful case that could make a difference because it is the first challenge to the antimarriage law to reach a federal appeals court, a step away  from the Supreme Court. The plaintiffs in two separate cases — which include seven couples and three individuals who have been denied federal benefits like Social Security payments and the right to file taxes jointly — prevailed in a lower court in Boston in 2010. Last month, a three-judge panel of the appeals court heard arguments on whether to uphold the original decision, which found the ban on federal recognition of same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

“These people have all worked decades and paid into the system or their spouse has and they are just shocked that they cannot get the same benefits that married people can get,” said Vickie Henry, a senior staff attorney at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders. “They have to plan for the worst-case scenario.”

If the plaintiffs prevail, their victory should extend to all same-sex couples in the jurisdiction covered by the appeals court  — which includes Massachusetts and New Hampshire, where gay marriage is legal; Rhode Island, which allows civil unions; and Maine and Puerto Rico. That means they would be eligible for federal benefits and the “full respect and recognition of the federal government” that heterosexual married couples receive, she said. Such a ruling would allow same-sex couples to file joint income tax returns, for instance.

Since only couples in one corner of the country would be eligible for such treatment, that would require federal agencies like the Internal Revenue Services to provide guidance. But legal experts say that it’s likely the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group —  a legal arm of the House, with five members and a Republican majority — would ask the United States Supreme Court to hear the case, and the appeals court’s favorable decision could be postponed.

Of course, it’s impossible to say what exactly will happen and when — the appeals court decision may come soon, or in many months, experts say, and might not reach the Supreme Court for a couple of years.

What kind of article is this? It is really an opinion piece labeled as an article.