RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – Despite a ruling from a federal judge declaring Proposition 8 unconstitutional, gay marriages are still on hold in California. The ruling is in the process of being appealed and could end up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. Meredith Harbach is a professor at the University of Richmond, School of Law. Her expertise is family law, and she joins us now to offer some perspective on the issue. Thank you for being here, professor.
Meredith Harbach: Thanks for having me.
Ryan Nobles: Most experts agreed that the voters passing a ban on gay marriage in California was just the beginning of a lengthy court battle. From your perspective, will this issue not be settled until it reaches the Supreme Court?
Meredith Harbach: I think that's right. We've seen, prior to this ruling, that the issue has been litigated mostly at the state court level. What was significant about the California ruling earlier this month is that it was the first time a federal judge struck down a same sex marriage ban based on federal constitutional law.
Ryan Nobles: And that basically opens the door for it to eventually get to the Supreme Court, correct?
Meredith Harbach: That's correct. If the appeal goes all the way up, we might see the Supreme Court taking this issue up in a year or two.
Ryan Nobles: Even if the Supreme Court does eventually make a ruling on that, does that necessarily end the fight? Will it become a fight where each individual state will have a make declaration on where they stand?
Meredith Harbach: The Supreme Court finds a constitutional right to same sex marriage like the judge California did, that's kind of the end of the line and that will have an impact across the country for all the states that right now ban same sex marriage.
Ryan Nobles: So is that why this particular issue is getting perhaps closer attention than some other debates we've had on guy marriage around the country? Because it's really the first that could impact us across the country, not just one state?
Meredith Harbach: That's correct. When we're talking about a ruling on federal law, the federal law applies to the entire country. Previously we've seen issues being litigated, for example, in Massachusetts, which allows same sex marriage as matter of Massachusetts constitutional law. When we're talking about the federal constitution, it's a real game-changer.
Ryan Nobles: How long is this process going to take before it gets to the point where the Supreme Court will actually hear the case?
Meredith Harbach: It's on an expedited appeal before the ninth circuit right now and so they will hear arguments in December. We may see a ruling from them early next year. With that being the case, we would probably see the Supreme Court take it up, if it decides to and it has that discretion, in the 2011-2012 term. So maybe in two years, by June 2012, we might hear something from the Supreme Court.
Ryan Nobles: This has obviously been a huge political issue outside the realm of the courtroom. If this ends up in 2011 and 2012, how big an issue could it be for candidates attempting to run for office.
Meredith Harbach: It this's a huge issue and you probably have reluctance at part of some politicians and candidates to have this issue teed up right before the fall's elections and it will continue to be a hot button politically.
Ryan Nobles: We'll continue to look to you for expertise on this issue as it goes forward.
Meredith Harbach: Thanks.
Ryan Nobles: Thank you for being here.
See the video at right for the full interview.