For GW couple, equality goes on trial

After two years together, junior Hannah Lynn and senior Issa Coultas admit they’re not ready to think about what state they want to live in after graduation or if they’ll eventually get married. But they don’t want one decision to depend on the other.

The couple lives together in the gender-neutral townhouse on F Street, cooking Saturday night dinners, playing card games and hosting parties. But this week, two monumental Supreme Court cases could shape the future of their daily routine.

The nation’s highest court will on Tuesday hear oral arguments on the legality of California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage with a referendum during the 2008 elections. The next day, justices will vet the Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law in 1996.

Laws on same-sex marriage are patchwork across the country and banned on the federal level. But the oral arguments come a week after a Washington Post-ABC News poll found a record 58 percent of Americans support marriage rights for gay couples.

Gay marriage cases explained

Proposition 8 case: Tuesday
Hollingsworth v. Perry

Lawyers Ted Olson and David Boies will argue that the U.S. constitution guarantees equal protection and due process. The law’s defenders say society has an interest in the state preserving traditional marriage. The decision, which will come in June, could affect just California or the entire country, depending on how broadly the court decides to rule.

The Defense of Marriage Act case: Wednesday
Windsor v. United States

DOMA bans federal marriage rights for gay couples, even if they are married in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage. The Obama administration has argued that the law is unconstitutional, but lawyers for the House of Representatives are defending the case. The act’s opponents argue that it violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause.

“When you’re little, you’re like, ‘Oh my wedding is going to be awesome.’ And then I came out as gay, and then that’s not a thing I have anymore. And that’s something I want back,” Coultas said.

The couple could marry in Lynn’s home state of Washington, but would not have full marriage rights granted by the federal government, including tax filing benefits. Coultas grew up in California, where gay couples cannot marry.

Lynn and Coultas, like gay couples across the country this week, are hopeful national policies will soon change.

Gay couples can marry in nine states and D.C., which made same-sex marriage legal in 2009. Thirty-one states prohibit same-sex marriage in their constitutions.

Coultas will graduate in May and take a job in Los Angeles, but the pair said they are commited to remaining in each other’s lives, despite thousands of miles of distance.

And while Lynn said she’s not interested in tying the knot at this point, she wants to keep that option open.

“I never was a kid who dreamed about my pretty white wedding, but I don’t want to have that right taken away from me. It’s not fair and that’s not okay. And so now I have to fight for this, and I have to start caring about marriage,” Lynn said.

As a Californian, Coultas said the court’s decision on Proposition 8 will be personal. When the ban passed in 2008, Coultas organized a high school assembly with her Gay Straight Alliance chapter to show students how the decision will affect them.

But the program stirred up controversy at her school, and she and her friends got in trouble because conservative students “thought they were being held captive.”

Lynn agreed that the decision to roll back same-sex marriage in California after just a few months was shocking. The law’s opponents this week will argue that the law violates gay couples’ equal protection and due process under the 14th Amendment.

“It just kind of hit me, and was my first introduction to being disappointed with my country really strongly and being really saddened by something that I didn’t really understand,” she said.

Lynn said she will take her girlfriend of two years to her first same-sex marriage ceremony this summer. When Lynn’s cousin gets married in Washington state, she said it will be filled with a joy her family would not have felt if they were celebrating a civil union.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.