Same-sex marriage

  • 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.

  • February 10, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Rebecca L. Brown, Newton Professor of Constitutional Law at USC Gould School of Law. She is the author of the 2010 ACS Issue Brief, “The Prop 8 Court Can Have it All: Justice, Precedent, Respect for Democracy, and an Appropriately Limited Judicial Role.”


    The Ninth Circuit did a great job this week in deciding the Perry case, involving the constitutionality of Proposition 8 — not only because of the result it reached, but because of how it got there. I think the court did a great service to the plaintiffs in Perry (as well as those similarly situated), to the state of California, and to the Constitution itself. I say this because the court focused very carefully and narrowly on the facts of the particular case, and did not yield to the temptation, always present in a sensational case, to be dramatic, to exaggerate, or to stretch the law. Instead, in my view, the court did exactly what we want a court to do when faced with any Equal Protection challenge:  to consider very carefully the interests that the state offers in support of its unequal treatment of some of its people, and to insist that those interests be both genuine and closely tied to the law under attack. 

    On that score, Proposition 8 could not survive, for a very simple reason. The interests that were offered in support of denying marriage status to same-sex couples were not relevant to the actual inequality that Proposition 8 created. As the court recognized, Proposition 8 affected only the status of marriage, not the legal infrastructure supporting families headed by same-sex couples. The word “only” does not at all mean that the denial of this status is unimportant to either side of this debate. But it does confine the court’s equal protection inquiry to just those state interests that could be said to justify this denial of the title of marriage. The court rightly recognized that broad assertions of state interests that might arguably be served by restricting same-sex households and families were simply not germane to Proposition 8 itself, because that proposition did not have any effect on the surviving bundle of property, parenting, and companionship rights that support those households and families. The state was called upon to offer a non-hostility-based rationale for leaving same-sex households legally intact while denying them the status of marriage.  The court found none.

  • January 3, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Steve Sanders, who teaches Sexuality and the Law, Family Law, and Constitutional Litigation at the University of Michigan Law School.


    Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who currently sits near the top of the Republican presidential field, raised eyebrows over the weekend for comments to NBC’s Chuck Todd on same-sex marriage. It’s old news, of course, that Santorum opposes such marriages (he has compared them to child abuse and bestiality). What was noteworthy about these latest comments was Santorum’s casual observation that, under the sort of federal ban he supports, not only could new marriages not be performed, but all existing same-sex marriages would be nullified. 

    This comment largely disappeared into the rivers of hype and frivolousness coming out of this year’s Iowa caucuses. Nonetheless, it gives us the opportunity to think seriously about the difference between marriage creation and marriage nullification, and whether they differ as matters of civil rights and liberties. I address this topic in a forthcoming article in the Michigan Law Review titled, “The Constitutional Right to (Keep Your) Same-Sex Marriage.” 

    If a federal constitutional ban on same-sex marriage were approved, Santorum was asked, “What would you do with same-sex couples who got married? Would you make them get divorced?” He replied, “Well, their marriage would be invalid. I think if the Constitution says ‘marriages are this,’ then people whose marriage is not consistent with the constitution….” At that point, he literally shrugged. (See the video here.)

    Granted, Rick Santorum is no one’s constitutional scholar. Still, it is stunning when someone who is being taken seriously as a presidential candidate (at least for this week) literally shrugs at the idea that the federal government might unilaterally void more than 130,000 perfectly legal marriages. After all, as a federal court observed in 1949, the “policy of the civilized world, is to sustain marriages, not to upset them.” Imagine the indignities and the hellish disruptions to lives, children, and property rights that Santorum’s policy would create. 

    Then, ponder the fact that right now we have laws in a majority of states that do pretty much the same thing.