Same-sex marriage

  • 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. 

  • May 9, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Although it may make little difference in states bent on barring same-sex marriage, President Obama made a historic announcement today on marriage equality, becoming as TPM notes the “first sitting president to come out in support of legal same-sex marriage.”

    President Obama told ABC News, “At a certain point, I’ve just concluded that for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.” (Picture is linked to video excerpt of the president’s interview.)

    The president’s comments come on the heels of the North Carolina vote in favor of a constitutional ban on marriage equality, and Vice President Joe Biden’s recent statement that he is “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex marriage.

    The president defended his record of advancing equality, noting, “I’ve always been adamant that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equally. And that’s why in addition to everything we’ve done in this administration, rolling back ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ so that outstanding Americans can serve our country, whether it’s no longer defending the Defense Against Marriage Act, which tried to federalize what historically has been state law, I’ve stood on the broader side of equality for the LGBT community.”

    But Obama said he “hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought that civil unions would be sufficient,” by giving gay couples the many rights that legally married couples enjoy. The president added that he was “sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people the word ‘marriage’ was something that invoked very powerful traditions, religious beliefs, and so forth.”

  • February 23, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Maryland lawmakers late today voted to join seven other states and the District of Columbia in legalizing same-sex marriage. The marriage equality measure, sponsored by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), will now likely face voters, since religious rights special interests in the state have promised to work to drag the measure, the Civil Marriage Protection Act, before voters this fall.

    One of the Senate’s leaders said the bill would end discrimination against same-sex couples and their families, and that it would not impact straight marriages. He said it was time to end state-sanctioned discrimination and allow gays and lesbians to wed. Another senator noted that this was not the first time the General Assembly had altered the civil right of marriage, noting that in the late 1960s it invalidated a ban on interracial marriage.

    Following debate, which included many allusions to religion and “traditional” marriage, the Md. Senate passed the bill by a vote of 25 – 22. With the promise of O’Malley’s signature, likely to happen tomorrow, Maryland will become the eighth state to legalize same-sex marriage. The District of Columbia also recognizes same-sex marriage.  Like marriage equality laws in New York and Washington, the Maryland measure includes an exemption for houses of worship, meaning they will not be under a legal obligation to perform same-sex marriages or allow their facilities to be used for the marriages.

    In an interview yesterday with one of the nation’s best gay reporters, Michelangelo Signorile, O’Malley (pictured) said he is confident a consensus has emerged in support of marriage equality. “There’s been an evolution in the broadest sense among the people of our state,” O’Malley said. He added that “people have come to realize that the way forward, among people of many different faiths, is always through the greater and broader respect for equal rights for all.”

    UCLA law school professor Adam Winkler examines another major win for marriage equality in a piece for The Huffington Post. Winkler notes that earlier this week a federal judge appointed by President George W. Bush ruled that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional.