Same-sex marriage

  • 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
    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.)

  • July 9, 2012
    Guest Post

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


    A federal court in Manhattan has entered a summary judgment in favor of Edith Windsor, a widow assessed an estate tax of $363,053 on her spousal inheritance. This sum was assessed because the federal government, pursuant to Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), deems her Canada-solemnized same-sex marriage nonexistent.

    This holding is the latest defeat for Congress’s 1996 handiwork. With the request by the Obama administration for certiorari to the First Circuit DOMA holding and to a Ninth Circuit DOMA scheduled for September oral argument, and with Prop 8 litigation potentially headed for high court review, Windsor nicely differentiates among the distinctive issues affecting same-sex marriage.

    In Windsor, a brief for intervenors for the U.S. House of Representatives argued that Congress could rationally conclude there is a federal interest in impeding “an unprecedented redefinition of our foundational social institution.” Judge Barbara Jones politely demolished this portentous pronouncement as support for federal law.

    The judge demonstrates that all-or-nothing arguments about same-sex marriage conflate separate questions. The intuition that a loud NO! is final masks the need for nuance. 

    With same-sex marriage, there are several obviously distinctive questions. First, must states affirmatively authorize same-sex marriage by issuing marriage licenses to couples? Second, may the federal government treat as null for federal law a state-created legal status affecting family relations? Third, to what extent are states required to afford recognition to legal statuses created outside the state by sister states? Fourth, what determines whether a state has recognized a given marriage, at a given time?  With differing questions, different factors are at work, and they demand multiple answers.

  • 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.