LGBT issues

  • April 4, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Holning Lau, Associate Professor of Law, University of North Carolina School of Law

    In my home state of North Carolina -- the most recent and probably last state to amend its constitution to ban same-sex marriage -- I have been fielding lots of questions from local couples wondering what impact, if any, the Supreme Court’s pending marriage cases will have here. The cases arose in California and New York. How might litigation that started so far away change things in our neck of the woods?

    The cases before the Supreme Court -- Hollingsworth v. Perry and United States v. Windsor -- are unlikely to have any immediate legal impact on same-sex couples in places like North Carolina. With that said, the cases can accelerate change in our part of the country, and they have already given us a lot to celebrate. In this post, I will use North Carolina as an example to elaborate on these points, but my underlying analysis can be applied to any one of the many states that currently, like North Carolina, offer no legal recognition to same-sex relationships.

    Immediate legal impact

    Let’s start with why the two cases probably won’t directly or immediately affect legal rights in North Carolina. Hollingsworth is the case about Prop 8, the ballot measure banning same-sex marriage in California. The case concerns whether a state can deny same-sex couples the right to marry. The Court could take Hollingsworth as an opportunity to declare that no state, including North Carolina, is permitted to deprive same-sex couples of that right. Indeed, I helped to prepare an amicus brief that supports that conclusion and I certainly welcome it. Conventional wisdom, however, is that the Court won’t make such a bold move. Some supporters of marriage equality counsel against a bold move, fearing the backlash that it would foment.

    Based on last week’s oral arguments, I suspect most of the justices are struggling to choose between dismissing the case on procedural grounds and striking down Prop 8 in a way that minimizes spillover effects to other states. I doubt that a majority of the justices will vote to uphold Prop 8.

    Dismissing the case on procedural grounds (discussed more fully here) would allow the Court to avoid having to either strike down or uphold Prop 8. It would simply be saying that, for technical reasons, the case is not properly before the Supreme Court. If the Court adopts this reasoning, Prop 8 would be unconstitutional because the California couples prevailed in lower court. However, because the Supreme Court itself would not be saying anything about same-sex marriage, states beyond California would remain unaffected.

  • 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.)