Lawyer Andrew Cohen analyzes legal affairs for CBS News and CBSNews.com.
Remember how the world was going to end depending upon which side in the same-sex marriage debate prevailed in court? Remember all the television coverage – all the shouting and whining – that surrounded the 2003 ruling in Massachusetts that legalized same-sex marriage? Remember the hullabaloo in 2004 caused by San Francisco's mayor authorizing the issuance of thousands of same-sex marriage licenses until the city was forced to stop?
Well, guess what. The issue and the debate and the story haven't gone away. All that is missing is the nation's attention span.
While you were focusing earlier this week upon whether Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama were successfully wooing super-delegates, or whether Mike Huckabee was finally going to come in from the cold on the Republican side, the California Supreme Court Tuesday heard oral argument for three hours in separate cases designed to flesh out the contours of the same-sex marriage debate.
The High Court now has 90 or so days in which to reach and announce its decision. Will California join the Bay State in allowing same-sex couples to formally "marry" as opposed to enter into a "union"? Will California go the way of other states, like New York and New Jersey and Washington, which have declared that there is no constitutional right to same-sex marriage? Or will the justices somehow punt the issue back to the legislature and to the people to "democratically" decide?
Is the dispute really only about the "M Word" as one California Justice put it Tuesday? Do same-sex unions relegate people to second-class status because they aren't technically married? And with the divorce rate so high in America can straight Americans truly claim with a straight face that the "dignity" and "solemnity" and "tradition" of marriage would be forever ruined if same-sex couples were allowed to wed (and, presumably, divorce)?
I don't have those answers. But the California Supreme Court ought to have its answer in early June and I'm betting its going to be a rough and tumble partisan ruling that will not satisfy those who find themselves on the losing side of the argument. No matter what the High Court decides, then, the ruling will help create a "talking point" or two in the endless political campaign. Same-sex marriage is to a general election what a bag of chips is to a couch potato – you start in on it and you just can't stop.
Yes, I know. All three remaining candidates are on the record as being opposed to same-sex marriage. But especially if California's court says "yes" to these sorts of unions, you can bet we'll hear plenty about it in the run-up to November.
This week, politics overwhelmed the law when it came to coverage. That's why you probably heard nary a peep about the argument. But soon enough the law will drive politics and, by extension, political coverage.
You just watch.