Proposition 8

  • March 19, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Nicole G. Berner, Associate General Counsel of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and Counsel of Record in Labor Movement Briefs filed in Hollingsworth v. Perry and United States v. Windsor & Elena Medina, SEIU Law Fellow. This post is part of an ACSblog symposium on Hollingsworth v. Perry and U.S. v. Windsor.


    A broad coalition of labor unions, representing more than 20 million American workers, and the interests of working people more broadly, filed amicus curiae briefs in support of the respondents in the Supreme Court challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8. Both cases will come before the Court for oral argument next week. The briefs, the only to outline specifically the economic damages of these laws, advocate for the right of all working people to fair and equal treatment in the workplace, and for the right of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers to receive the same employment benefits and protections as their heterosexual co-workers.

    Marital status plays a key role in determining eligibility for-- and taxation of -- a myriad of workplace benefits and protections. These benefits, together with state and federal programs for working people and their families, form the safety net upon which most Americans rely for retirement and financial assistance in the event of illness, injury, disability or death. They are particularly crucial for families in which only one adult works outside of the home or is eligible for employer-provided benefits. Laws codifying marriage discrimination, such as DOMA and Proposition 8, largely deprive LGBT workers of access to these benefits and protections and thereby perpetuate a two-tiered workforce in which LGBT workers are treated inferior to their heterosexual counterparts and unfairly relegated to a lower stratum of economic security.

    Health Care Benefits. Employer-provided health care provides the most common source of medical coverage for working Americans and their families. But for same-sex couples, DOMA and Proposition 8 create a litany of impediments that complicate, penalize or flatly prohibit full family coverage. Without equal access to employer-provided spousal health care benefits, some non-covered same-sex partners are forced to rely on coverage available through public assistance or to go without health insurance entirely. Even for workers whose employers extend coverage to gay and lesbian spouses or who can afford to purchase private insurance for the non-covered spouse, DOMA and Proposition 8 deny access to tax benefits and raise health care costs for same-sex couples significantly, forcing such couples to pay thousands of dollars more on healthcare each year.

  • March 1, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    California State Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) and 22 legal scholars are urging the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate the discriminatory Proposition 8, saying it not only yanks constitutional rights from lesbians and gay men, but also prevents state lawmakers like Pérez from pushing for marriage equality legislation.

    In the friend-of-the-court brief lodged in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the speaker and law professors argue that until Proposition 8 came along the state recognized that gay couples should not be treated differently than opposite-sex couples.

    “Many gay couples in California are raising children. Many gay teenagers in California need a vision of the future in which they are full participants in the life of their families and communities. And many gay men and lesbians have a fundamental longing to know that as they pass through their days, their lives will not go unnoticed. The State recognizes these basic human feelings for heterosexuals, and before the passage of Proposition 8, the California Constitution protected gay people as well, recognizing their fundamental right to marry,” the brief states.

    But after enactment of Proposition 8, the brief continues, “voters eliminated more than the equal right to marry. Under principles of California law and current interpretations by the California Supreme Court, Proposition 8 eliminated the ability of those seeking equal marriage rights to avail themselves of any ability to pursue such rights through the political actions of their accountable elected representatives.”

    Pérez, in a press statement about the brief, said the constricting nature of the antigay law “deprives a historically disadvantaged group – a group of which I am a member – of access to traditional representation in a representative democracy. And the deprivation violates the Constitution.”

    And other California politicians would like to help advance equality. The Pérez brief notes that Edmund Brown and Kamala Harris “ran and won in 2010 on platforms supporting equal marriage rights and voting to oppose the continued effect of Proposition 8, neither of them can take action to end this case as the voters desire them to do.” Brown is the governor and Harris the attorney general.

    The Obama administration, though not a party in the case, filed a brief yesterday with the high court also calling for an end to Proposition 8 and for a broad approach to protecting equality. Some commentators say the Obama brief did not call for an end to all state laws that prevent marriage equality. Yet the brief did call for laws classifying the LGBT community to be subjected to heighted scrutiny. This means that if government, federal or state, bars a group of people from getting married, like lesbians and gay men, but allows their straight counterparts to wed, it should be prepared to overcome a heavy burden as to why equal protection should be flaunted. And As the San Francisco Chronicle’s Bob Egelko notes that “underlying rational – that laws discriminating against gays and lesbians must be struck down unless they serve some important government purpose – could, if adopted by the court, invalidate bans on same-sex marriage in all 41 states that have them.”

    The Pérez brief urges the high court, when addressing the “federal constitutional issues” in Hollingsworth, to “be mindful of the unique aspects of California law and the ways in which Proposition 8 has eliminated not just equal marriage rights formerly guaranteed by the state Constitution, but also the ability of gay men and lesbians in California to achieve marriage equality through the normal political process. If gay people can be denied access to representative government to achieve equal treatment with respect to an important status such as marriage, then in California, any other small, historically disadvantaged minority group can also be denied the right to representation with respect to seeking any other fundamental right.”

    Beyond advancing a profoundly compelling argument for equal protection, the brief reveals how Proposition 8 is fundamentally anti-democratic policy.  

  • February 28, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The Obama administration is weighing in on the constitutional challenge to California’s anti-gay initiative Proposition 8. And like it did in a separate case before the Supreme Court challenging the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, the administration is advancing a call for equality.

    The case, Hollingsworth v. Perry is from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which last year invalidated Proposition 8, in part, because it “served no purpose and no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians.”

    The Obama administration had no obligation to weigh in, but did so on the last day to lodge briefs with the high court.

    “California law provides to same-sex couples registered as domestic partners all the legal incidents of marriage, but it nonetheless denies them the designation of marriage allowed to their opposite-sex counterparts. Particularly in those circumstances, the exclusion of gay and lesbian couples from marriage does not substantially further any important government interest. Proposition 8 thus violates equal protection,” the administration’s brief states.

    SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston says the administration’s brief “could be read to support a right to marriage equality in every state, but it did not endorse that idea explicitly.”

    Denniston continues, “What the brief endorsed is what has been called the ‘eight-state solution’ – that is, if a state already recognizes for same-sex couples all the privileges and benefits that married couples have (as in the eight states that do so through ‘civil unions’) those states must go the final step and allow those couples to get married. The argument is that it violates the Constitution’s guarantee of legal equality when both same-sex and opposite-sex couples are entitled to the same marital benefits, but only the opposite-sex couples can get married.”

    The administration’s brief nonetheless provides what could also be seen as a robust call for equality stretching from coast to coast. For example, the administration argues that laws classifying lesbians and gay men should be subject to “heightened scrutiny.”

    “For certain protected classes, however, heightened scrutiny enables courts to ascertain whether the government has employed the classification for a significant and proper purpose, and provides an enhanced measure of protection in circumstances where there is a greater danger that the classification results from impermissible prejudice or stereotypes. Because sexual orientation is a factor that ‘generally provides no sensible ground for different treatment,’ laws that classify based on sexual orientation should be subject to heightened scrutiny,” the brief states.

  • December 20, 2012
    Guest Post

    by Dan Urman, Director of Northeastern University’s Doctorate in Law and Policy. Urman is also a member of the ACS Boston Steering Committee.

    On Dec. 12, as part of the ACS Boston Lawyer Chapter’s “Legal Legends in the Law” series, Laurence Tribe reflected on his remarkable career as a constitutional law professor and Supreme Court litigator.  Tribe, Carl Loeb University Professor at Harvard University, began by providing an overview of the Supreme Court’s decision to hear two cases related to marriage equality: Windsor v. U.S. and Hollingsworth v. Perry. Disagreeing with popular news reports already predicting the outcome, Tribe argued that more than one justice is uncertain about how he or she will vote.

    Tribe (pictured) has decades of experience writing, teaching, and litigating constitutional rights for gay and lesbian Americans, often at his professional peril. He referenced his discussion of sexual orientation in his 1978 Treatise, American Constitutional Law, taking a stance well outside of the legal and social “mainstream.”  \Tribe argued that laws discriminating against individuals based on sexual orientation were “indistinguishable from laws discriminating against individuals based on their race or gender.”  Many friends and colleagues advised him against taking such a position publicly, because it could cost him a position on the U.S. Supreme Court. These warnings resurfaced when he prepared to testify against Judge Robert Bork’s 1987 Supreme Court nomination. Senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) told Professor Tribe that it would be great to see “both of them (Bork and Tribe) on the Court,” and if Tribe testified against Bork, he would be “burning a bridge.”  Twenty-five years later, Tribe said that if serving on the Court meant holding back his actual views, it was a bridge he did not want to cross. 

  • December 14, 2012
    Guest Post

    by Janson Wu. Wu is a staff attorney with Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) in Boston and the recipient of ACS’s 2012 David Carliner Award. He is also co-counsel in two of the DOMA challenges (Gill v. OPM and Pedersen v. OPM). While those cases were not granted cert by the U.S. Supreme Court, he remains committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure that DOMA is no longer the law of the land.  


    The predictions surrounding the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last Friday to grant certiorari in two LGBT cases began long before conference day. For months, court-watchers wondered whether the Court would grant review in the Perry case challenging the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8, which limits marriage to straight couples. Or would the Court deny certiorari and leave the Ninth Circuit’s narrowly crafted decision intact, which overturned Proposition 8 only without inflicting collateral damage to the other 30 state constitutional amendments banning marriage for loving and committed gay couples.

    In contrast, many felt confident that the Court would review one of the four cases challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).The trickier question was which case would the Court take.

    In the end, the Court agreed to hear the Proposition 8 case, and choose the ACLU’s Windsor case as its preferred vehicle for reviewing the constitutionality of DOMA.

    Now the real betting begins.