marriage equality

  • June 5, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The movement for marriage equality, part of a much more expansive effort to advance equality for the LGBT community, avoided a setback as a federal appeals court in San Francisco refused to reconsider its ruling from earlier in the year that invalidated California’s anti-gay measure Proposition 8.

    Proponents of Proposition 8, which barred same-sex marriages in the state, had urged the entire U.S. Court of Appeals for Ninth Circuit to review and reverse a three-judge panel’s February ruling. But a majority of the Circuit’s judges voted against reconsideration, the Los Angeles Times reported.

    In February, the Ninth Circuit panel ruled 2-1 that Proposition 8 “served no purpose and no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians.” Writing for the majority in Perry v. Brown, Ninth Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt said, “Proposition 8 worked a singular and limited change to the California Constitution: it stripped same-sex couples of the right to have their committed relationships recognized by the State with the designation of ‘marriage,’ which the state constitution had previously guaranteed them, while leaving in place all their other rights and responsibilities as partners – rights and responsibilities that are identical of those married spouses and form an integral part of the marriage relationship.”     

    Today, three of the Ninth Circuit’s judges lodged a dissent saying the full Circuit should have reviewed the panel’s opinion. The dissenters accused their colleagues of muzzling “respectful conversation” of same-sex marriage. “Even worse,” they continued, “we have overruled the will of seven million California Proposition 8 voters based on a reading of Romer that would be unrecognizable to the Justices who joined it, to those who dissented from it, and to the judges from sister circuits who have since interpreted it.”

    In its February opinion, Reinhardt (pictured) cited the Supreme Court’s Romer v. Evans opinion that invalidated Colorado’s effort to use state law to marginalize a group of people, namely gay men and lesbians. Reinhardt noted that in Romer, the high court said Colorado’s constitutional amendment preventing localities from implementing laws protecting lesbians and gay men from discrimination undermined equal protection principles, saying that it was “not within our constitutional tradition to enact laws of this sort,” which targets “a certain class of citizens for disfavored legal status.”

    Reinhardt also lamented the impact of Proposition 8, which yanked marriage equality rights from same-sex couples not long after the California Supreme Court ruled that the state’s constitution granted them the right to wed.

  • June 4, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Mae Kuykendall, Professor of Law, Michigan State University, and Director of the Legal E-Marriage Project


    The prospects for the Supreme Court to issue a ruling affecting the marriage rights of same-sex couples seem to be accelerating. At the forefront are three distinct contexts for litigation: whether states can be required to authorize same-sex marriage, whether the federal government can deny state-created same-sex marriages federal recognition, and whether states can be required to recognize valid same-sex marriages performed in other states. Two U.S. circuit courts, the Ninth and the First, have issued opinions that treat with skepticism the governmental interest in blocking gay marriage. Both Courts proceeded with the caution required by Circuit Courts, which must follow Supreme Court precedent. For that reason, both courts avoided ruling that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right, and also avoided holding that gay men or lesbians are entitled to special judicial solicitude to protect them from unfavorable legislation.

    The Ninth Circuit’s conclusion limited the ability of a state to authorize a legal status with rights just like marriage, but withhold the word marriage. The Court reasoned that stripping away the word “marriage,” while leaving the rights intact, has no purpose except inflicting second-class status on gay couples.

    In addressing the state’s obligations to authorize marriages of residents, the California case has no direct concern with federalism. The primary concern is the local marriage law of California.

    In the First Circuit opinion, there is a subtle yet powerful convergence of federalism principles and equality principles. The First Circuit held unconstitutional a provision of federal law, Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines the word marriage, for all purposes of the U.S. code, as the union of one man and one woman. Significantly, the First Circuit held that the law violated both federalism rules and principles of equality.

  • May 31, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Besides being the first federal appeals court to invalidate the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), at least one blogger says it is noteworthy because two of the federal appeals court judges are Republican appointees. The unanimous court opinion upholding a lower district court decision, found DOMA advanced disparate treatment of same-sex couples and interfered with the right of states to regulate marriage.

    In Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit found that although DOMA does not invalidate same-sex marriages recognized in a growing number of states, “its adverse consequences for such a choice are considerable. Notably, it prevents same-sex married couples from filing joint federal tax retruns, which can lessen tax burdens, and prevents the surviving spouse of a same-sex marriage from collecting Social Security survivor benefits. DOMA also leaves federal employees unable to share their health insurance and certain other medical benefits with same-sex spouses.”

    The First Circuit panel continued that the federal law, enacted by President Bill Clinton, works “to the disadvantage of same-sex married couples in the half dozen or so states that permit same-sex marriage. The number of couples thus affected is estimated at more than 100,000.” [Maryland recently joined seven other states and the District of Columbia in recognizing same-sex marriage.]

    The public interest group, GLAD brought the case, representing seven Massachusetts same-sex couples and three surviving spouses to block the federal government from enforcing DOMA, which would block the couples from benefits available to straight married couples in the state. GLAD was founded in 1978 to end discrimination based on sexual orientation, HIV status, and gender identity and expression, argued that DOMA violates the equal protection rights of same-sex couples.

    GLAD said the appeals court’s “decision reaffirms the lower court ruling that all married couples and surviving spouses deserve the same opportunities to care and provide for each other and their families.”

  • May 11, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Quickly after President Obama announced his support of marriage equality, the president’s knee-jerk detractors doused the moment with cynicism. The president, they said backed into the announcement or they snidely asked what’s the difference between a flip-flop and evolving.

    The response from the far right – Obama is a scourge, a menace to society, God is surely irked now – was overwrought and hardly surprising. The cynicism, however, was offensive for its insensitivity and cluelessness. Did the dunderhead crowd listen to the president’s comments or was it expressing a latent distaste for gay Americans or ignorance of the challenges lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender Americans face in a society where many are still bent on oppressing and marginalizing them.

    Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick, argues that listening to Obama’s comments is, surprising as it may seem, helpful, writing, “Whatever your view of President Obama’s motives, or the legal consequences of his statement …, it is not in dispute that the words he spoke gave many Americans – including gay children and teenagers – the message that he had heard them, and that their experiences mattered so much that he’d changed his views – personal, political and legal.”

    Or as James Fallows, the longtime correspondent for the Atlantic, said:  

    I am aware that there are various slice-and-dice cynical assessments one could make of the president’s comments today. (Why did he take so long? Why did he back off the support he’d expressed in the 1990s? Might this be useful as a wedge issue in the election? It doesn’t have any immediate since it’s still up to the states. And so on.) But the fact remains that five minutes before his announcement, no one could be sure that he would take the step of staying that his personal views had changed. He did – and it was important, brave, potentially risky, and right. That should be noted It’s a significant day.

  • May 10, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Paul M. Smith, Partner, Jenner & Block. Mr. Smith successfully challenged the constitutionality of sodomy laws in the landmark Supreme Court opinion, Lawrence v. Texas, and is a former chair of the ACS Board.


    It takes no great insight to say that President Obama’s announcement of support for equal marriage rights for same-sex couples reflected, in part, mounting political pressure on the president. As Adam Nagourney said in Thursday’s New York Times, the president “was at risk of seeming politically timid and calculating, standing at the sidelines while a large number of Americans – including members of  both parties – embraced gay marriage.”  In fact, it became clear the campaign had misjudged the politics of this issue. Experience was showing it was close to impossible for Mr. Obama to talk with core members of his base without facing the same awkward question over and over – when are you going to get done “evolving” on the issue of equal marriage rights?  That said, it does seem over the top for the Log Cabin Republicans to call the announcement “offensive and callous” on the same day when so many others, gay and straight, were inspired by the fact that a sitting president had moved so far toward advocating complete equality for LGBT citizens.

    The more interesting question is why the original decision to avoid this issue until after the election proved to be so wrong. After all, candidates avoid controversial issues all the time when voters and the press will allow it. The answer is in part that the issue of equal marriage rights is constantly being brought up this year as a result of referenda that will occur in four states in November (not to mention the vote just held in North Carolina) as well as the Prop 8 and DOMA lawsuits.