U.S. Supreme Court Prepares for Same Sex Marriage Hearing

All eyes will be on the nine judges who sit on the U.S. Supreme Court this week, as both sides present their arguments as to whether same-sex marriages should be recognized in all 50 states. It's almost surreal that one of the most important civil rights issues of the 21st century could be argued in a time span shorter than many Hollywood movies. On April 28, the Supreme Court justices will hear oral arguments in four separate cases that comprise this same-sex marriage debate.

That is not to say the whole matter rides on a two-and-a-half hour oral argument. The court has received hundreds of pages of briefs and amicus briefs for and against, and all will be considered in conjunction with the oral arguments. Arguably, it is the written material the justices will lean on more heavily, using the oral arguments as a way to get the attorneys to further clarify their points in the context of the questions the justices present, with observers hanging on every word in an attempt to glean how the court will rule.

Even though the Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that the federal government’s Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, that ruling only applied to federal recognition of same-sex marriage. At issue before the Court on April 28 will be the constitutional authority of states to narrowly define that a marriage can only be between one man and one woman.

The Supreme Court will be considering the constitutionality of not one, but four different cases on April 28, when they hear the oral arguments. The four cases have been consolidated into one hearing slated to last approximately two-and-a-half hours. The lawsuits appealed to the Supreme Court originated in four different states that have banned same-sex marriages.

Obergefell V. Hodges James Obergefell originally filed a lawsuit to have Ohio recognize his out-of-state marriage to his terminally ill spouse, John Arthur, so that Obergefell could be listed on Arthur’s death certificate as the surviving spouse. Obergefell prevailed in his lawsuit in December 2013 in U.S. District Court, but the Ohio Attorney General appealed the decision.

Tanco V. Haslan Drs. Valeria Tanco and Sophy Jesty of Knoxville sued the state of Tennessee to recognize their marriage. On November 14, 2014, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Tennessee’s ban on same-sex marriage does not violate the constitution. The plaintiffs then appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court.

DeBoer V. Snyder In January 2013, April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse sued the state of Michigan, challenging the state’s ban on adoption by same-sex couples. The lawsuit was amended to include a challenge to Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage. In March of 2014 federal district court Judge Bernard A. Friedman issued a ruling overturning Michigan’s ban. The ruling was appealed, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Bourke V. Beshear Gregory Bourke and Michael Deleon were legally wed in Ontario, Canada, in 2013. They filed a lawsuit challenging Kentucky’s refusal to recognize their same-sex marriages performed in another jurisdiction. Judge Heyburn with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky ruled in February, 2014, that Kentucky must recognize same-sex-marriages from other jurisdictions. Upon appeal, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Kentucky’s ban on same-sex marriage does not violate the constitution.

The Supreme Court will be limiting the oral arguments and presentation to the following questions.

1. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?
2. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?

Central to rulings in favor of same-sex marriage is the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The cornerstone argument for those opposed to same-sex marriage is the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which expresses the principle of federalism in our government and that of state’s rights.
“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Lyle Denniston, writing for the SCOTUSBlog, reviewed the briefs filed by the various states supporting their respective bans on same-sex marriage. A common argument was, “What is at stake in these cases is nothing less than the right of self-government in the political communities of the several states, exercising sovereign powers.”

A similar argument noted by Denniston was, “States are entitled to define marriage in that traditional way, to promote child-bearing within a natural biological partnership, and same-sex couples can be excluded from marriage because they are not similarly capable of procreation as a couple.”

Of course the recognition of same-sex marriage goes far beyond just the marriage contract. The original lawsuit of DeBoer V. Snyder was about the recognition of adopted children by same-sex couples in Michigan. Until states are forced to recognize the legitimate right of same-sex couples to wed, these couples will face uncertainty when it comes to parental rights, surrogacy, egg and sperm donation, and second parent adoptions. Later in 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court hands down its decision, we will find out if the Court believes the Fourteenth Amendment trumps a state’s right to define a marriage between one man and woman and whether states must recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions.

We at IFLG join LGBT citizens nationwide in our dream that same-sex marriage will be universally recognized in all states. The Supreme Court’s reticence in issuing a definitive ruling indicates justices are reluctant to get out too far ahead of public opinion and mores. But a decision that gives each state the ability to define marriage on its own terms won’t end the argument; LGBT and civil rights activists are not going to quietly throw in the towel and go home. A decision that would keep LGBT people and their families in a state of confusion and uncertainty in which their marital status can change every time they cross a state line seems unimaginable.

Rich Vaughn
Richard Vaughn

Attorney Rich Vaughn is founder and principal of International Fertility Law Group, one of the world’s largest and best-known law firms focused exclusively on assisted reproductive technology, or ART, including in vitro fertilization (IVF), surrogacy, sperm donation or egg donation. Rich is co-author of the book “Developing A Successful Assisted Reproduction Technology Law Practice,” American Bar Association Publishing, 2017.

Peiya Wang
Paralegal (律师助理)

Peiya Wang joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2015, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases and provides translation services for many of IFLG’s international clients. Peiya received her bachelor’s degree from Beijing Technologies and Business University, where she majored in Marketing. She moved to the United States in 2012 to attend Northeast University in Boston, Massachusetts, receiving a Master of Science degree in Global Studies and International Affairs in 2014. Peiya moved to Los Angeles in 2015 and received her paralegal certification from UCLA Extension. When away from the office, Peiya is a dragon boat paddler and a ballroom dancer, where she favors Rumbas and Cha-chas. She is fluent in Mandarin and English.

Luis Sosa

Luis R. Sosa joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2016, where he enjoys pursuing his passion for family and reproductive law. While working toward his bachelor’s degree at Florida International University, Luis worked as a paralegal and legal assistant for family law litigation firms in Miami and Washington, D.C. As a paralegal and case manager for IFLG, Luis, who is bilingual in English and Spanish, manages surrogacy, egg donation and other reproductive law cases. In addition to spending time with husband Randy and dog Marty, Luis enjoys being outdoors and appreciating the arts.

Toni Hughes

After receiving her B.S. in Business Management, Toni joined IFLG to pursue her dream of working in the legal field. As a Paralegal with over 10 years of experience in the assisted reproduction technology field, Toni is our Managing Paralegal, responsible for training and managing our paralegal staff. From drafting legal documents to assisting our clients with post-birth matters, Toni embraces the challenge of learning something new in this field each day. Besides spending time with her son, Jordan, Toni enjoys exploring new things, cooking, spending time with family and friends, and serving as a Youth Advisor for “Next Generation.”

Miesha Cowart
Financial Coordinator

Miesha Cowart joined IFLG as a financial specialist in 2014 following a successful career in development and business finance. Miesha previously worked for 10 years in the construction industry as a controller and for 13 years as Development Coordinator for the non-profit U.S. Fund for UNICEF. In her free time, Miesha works with “Next Generation” at her church. “They are my heartbeats!” she says of the youth in her community.


Kim has over 25 years of experience in the legal field and has worked exclusively in surrogacy and assisted reproduction law since 1999. Kim is a senior case manager of surrogacy and egg donation cases, and is also responsible for managing parental establishment cases and interacting with IFLG’s Of Counsel attorneys across the country. With three children of her own, Kim understands the importance of family and finds working in this area of law a rewarding experience.

Rich Vaughn

Attorney Rich Vaughn combined his personal passion as a father of twin boys born via assisted reproductive technology (ART) with more than 20 years of experience in business and technology law to build International Fertility Law Group. Today IFLG is one of the most successful and best-known law firms in the world focused exclusively on fertility law, helping thousands of intended parents through empathetic listening, compassionate guidance, and unmatched legal expertise. As an advocate for reproductive freedom, Rich also contributes his knowledge and time to improving the understanding and practice of ART law, most recently as a founder of and speaker at the first Cambridge University International Surrogacy Symposium held in June 2019, as immediate past chair of the American Bar Association ART Committee, and as a popular presenter to law schools, faculty and advocacy organizations all over the world.

Elizabeth Tamayo

Elizabeth received her Bachelors of Science degree in Criminal Justice from California State University of Los Angeles. Shortly after graduating, she continued her education at the University of California, Los Angeles where she obtained her Paralegal certificate. Elizabeth is fluent in Spanish and has been in the legal field since 2009. She is excited to be a part of the IFLG Team helping families realize their dreams.

Sunny Chien

Sunny joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2017, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases for many of IFLG’s international clients. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from California State University of Los Angeles, where she graduated cum laude. Sunny is bilingual in English and Mandarin and has extensive experience as a legal assistant and paralegal at Los Angeles-area law firms. She is excited to be part of the IFLG team. In her spare time, Sunny enjoys spending time with her family and their dog, going to the beach, cooking, and being outdoors.

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Molly O'Brien

Fertility law attorney Molly O’Brien began working in the field of assisted reproduction technology (ART) in 2005, at an egg donation agency and a surrogacy agency where she became familiar with all aspects of in-vitro fertilization, egg donation and the financial aspects of surrogacy. Since becoming an attorney in 2011, Molly has drafted and negotiated surrogacy, egg donation, sperm donation embryo donation agreements for hundreds of her clients all over the world.