LGBT issues

  • April 3, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Even before the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in two cases dealing with government discrimination of gay couples who want to get married, a growing chorus of legal scholars and others urged the high court to move slowly. Because, according to these folks, if the justices declare that lesbians and gay men have a constitutionally protected right to wed, a backlash against the marriage equality movement could be unleashed.

    And proof for such a backlash centers on the high court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade opinion, which found that the right of privacy includes the right of women to make their own decisions on abortion. According to proponents of moving slowly on marriage equality, Roe sparked a backlash against growing support of abortion and now we have state after state trying to trample the fundamental right. Therefore the backlash proponents argue that the justices should learn from Roe and avoid handing down a ruling that would end government discrimination against gay couples seeking to wed. This backlash story has been fueled in part by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who while defending the Roe decision, said the Court moved to fast.

    But as an editorial in The New York Times notes, the backlash proponents are basing their argument on a “false reading of politics before and after Roe v. Wade ….” The editorial cites the work of ACS Board Members Linda Greenhouse and Reva Siegel, both teach at Yale Law School, documenting the fact that the fevered opposition to reproductive rights was forming long before the high court handed down Roe.

    In a 2010 interview with ACSblog, highlighting their Before Roe v. Wade book, Greenhouse and Siegel said the documentation they collected for the book showed “that, contrary to the commonly expressed view that it was the Supreme Court and its decision that unleashed a ‘backlash’ against abortion reform, a vigorous counter-movement was forming well before Roe. In the late 1960s, as public support for liberalization surged, the Catholic Church helped organized an anti-abortion movement to oppose liberalization in every state legislature and court considering abortion laws. Strategists for President Nixon’s 1972 re-election then decided to denounce ‘permissive’ abortion laws to attract Catholics from their longtime affiliation with the Democratic Party and court the support of a ‘silent majority.’”

     

  • March 29, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    During oral argument in the case raising constitutional challenges to California’s anti-gay law, Proposition 8, Justice Antonin Scalia sought to help out the attorney defending the law, by providing him “some concrete things.”

    One of the supposed concrete things Scalia pushed, as The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein notes, was anything but. Scalia claimed that there is “considerable disagreement among” sociologists over the effects on children raised by same-sex couples. But as Klein reports that is simply not true and Scalia should have known that.

    In a friend-of-the-court brief before the high court, the American Sociological Association said, “The clear and consistent consensus in the social science profession is that across a wide range of indicators, children fare just as well when they are raised by same-sex parents when compared to children raised by opposite-sex parents.”

    Klein blasts Scalia for pushing a supposedly “concrete” example of the harm that could occur if states were to stop excluding same-sex couples from marriage. “Scalia offered no details or evidence of this considerable disagreement among sociologists, and it’s hard to believe he’s a better judge of the profession than the ASA, whose brief he notably declined to mention,” Klein wrote.

  • March 29, 2013

    by Caroline Fredrickson, ACS President. This piece is cross-posted on The Huffington Post.

    It has to do with "our dignity," being able to be who we are openly. That's what Edith S. Windsor the woman challenging the cramped definition of marriage embedded in the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) said in a documentary about her longtime relationship with Thea Spyer. The two were married in Canada, a country that does not exclude lesbians and gay men from marriage, after more than 40 years together and not long before Spyer died of complications related to multiple sclerosis.

    The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case lodged by Windsor and in another case challenging California's ant-gay law, Proposition 8, which stripped lesbians and gay men of the right to wed in that state. It's difficult to predict how the Court will rule based solely on oral argument. But a consensus is building among many court-watchers that the justices appeared likely to move only incrementally on marriage equality.

    In the Prop 8 case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, the justices dwelled heavily on a threshold question - is a handful of Prop 8 proponents the right group to defend the law before the Court. If the justices toss the case on procedural grounds, it likely means that lesbians and gay men can resume obtaining marriage licenses in that state, but would have no effect elsewhere. In the DOMA case, U.S. v. Windsor, the justices also focused heavily on standing, but when they turned to the substance of the case - a constitutional challenge to the federal government's narrow definition of marriage - several of the justices seemed far more concerned about the law's impact on federalism than on equal protection. Thus a majority of justices may be ready to invalidate DOMA's central provision, but on very narrow grounds. So in both cases the Court could provide very little progress on a core question - should laws that classify lesbians and gay men for unequal treatment be subjected to a much tougher constitutional test?

    Supporters of marriage equality in both cases urged the justices to find that laws targeting gay men and lesbians should be subjected to a heightened scrutiny when challenged in court. In other words, the government would have to show a compelling interest in enforcing a discriminatory law - a very difficult test to meet. The high court, however, can avoid that declaration and questioning during oral argument in both cases suggested that may be what occurs. On marriage alone, however, it is unlikely - regardless of how the Court rules -- that the robust movement for marriage equality will stall. These cases have made the question over marriage an easier one for many Americans to answer.

  • March 29, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Erin Ryan, Associate Professor of Law, Northwestern School of Law, Lewis & Clark College. Professor Ryan is the author of Federalism and the Tug of War Within. For more on the cases raising marriage equality concerns see the ACSblog symposium on Hollingsworth v. Perry and U.S. v. Windsor.

    A federalism scholar explains why federalism isn't the issue in Hollingsworth and Windsor.

    Federalism is once again at the forefront of the Supreme Court’s most contentious cases this Term. The cases attracting most attention are the two same-sex marriage cases that were argued this week. Facing intense public sentiment on both sides of the issue and the difficult questions they raise about the boundary between state and federal authority, some justices openly questioned whether they should just defer to the political process. And while this is often a wise prudential approach in review of contested federalism-sensitive policymaking, it’s exactly the wrong course of action when the matter at hand is an individual right.

    While both cases raise curious issues of standing, the substantive issue at the heart of each case is whether same-sex couples should be able to marry. Hollingsworth v. Perry asks the Court to review the constitutionality of a California’s “Prop 8,” a ballot initiative banning same-sex marriages within the state. United States v. Windsor tests the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a federal law that prevents the U.S. government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in states that allow it (and affecting the administration of some 1,100 federal benefits connected with marriage). 

    Yet the looming question for the Supreme Court is not just whether gays and lesbians have the right to marry -- the justices must also confront the question of who should decide whether same-sex couples can marry. Is this something that states should be able to decide for themselves, by making and interpreting state law? (After all, matters of family law have traditionally been left to state regulation.) Or, is the decision to marry so fundamentally important that it triggers the federal Constitution’s promise that all citizens will be treated equally under the law? (After all, even though family law is traditionally left to the states, the Constitution won’t allow them to deny interracial marriages.)

  • March 27, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    As in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Proposition 8 case, the U.S. Supreme Court justices in today’s consideration of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act dwelled on jurisdictional questions, before discussing the core constitutional concerns.

    But a reading of the oral argument transcript in U.S. v. Windsor suggests a majority of justices may be ready to invalidate DOMA, but on narrow grounds, and likely not with a declaration that laws classifying lesbians and gay men for unequal treatment should be subjected to heightened scrutiny. Instead if the justices strike DOMA – and SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston suggests that may be what happens – it likely will be on federalism grounds – that is the law encroaches on the states’ rights to regulate marriage.  

    ACS President Caroline Fredrickson in a statement following oral argument said, “The federal government has a duty to protect Constitutional principles and values. The so-called Defense of Marriage Act, however, is an egregious affront to the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. DOMA walls off lesbians and gay men from more than 1,000 federal government benefits, protections and rights. There is no rational reason for this law. The Supreme Court should reject it and establish a more rigorous test for similar laws.”

    Before moving to the core of the case – a constitutional challenge to DOMA – several of the justices pelted lawyers with questions about whether the case should even be before the justices. (The Obama administration has stopped defending DOMA, calling it unconstitutional. But when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled last year that DOMA’s cramped definition of marriage was unconstitutional, the administration appealed the opinion to the Supreme Court, where it argued against the law.) During oral argument, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. took a shot at the administration’s handling of the case, saying that if the president thinks the law is unconstitutional then why doesn’t he “have the courage of his convictions" and not enforce the law, instead of saying, "'Oh, we'll wait till the Supreme Court tells us we have no choice.'"

    After getting through the mind-numbing back-and-forth on standing questions, the justices turned to the constitutionality of DOMA, and it appeared that a majority was leaning toward killing it. Lawyers representing Edith S. Windsor the woman challenging DOMA, argued in their merits brief before the Supreme Court that laws like DOMA, which target lesbians and gay men for unequal treatment when challenged should be subjected to a heightened scrutiny. “This Court should apply heightened scrutiny to DOMA because it discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation,” the brief states. “Under heightened scrutiny, the federal government must at the very least show that the classification is ‘substantially related to the achievement of [important government objectives].’”