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Ginsburg officiates same-sex wedding

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, gay news,  Washington Blade

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg became the first sitting justice to officiate a same-sex wedding at the nuptials of Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser and his partner John Roberts. (Photo public domain)

WASHINGTON —Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Saturday presided over the Washington, D.C. wedding of her longtime friend and Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser and his partner, economist John Roberts.

Ginsburg is the first Supreme Court justice to officiate same-sex nuptials, according to the Washington Post, just short of four months after the court struck down key provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that prevented the United States government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in states that have legalized them.

“I think it will be one more statement that people who love each other and want to live together should be able to enjoy the blessings and the strife in the marriage relationship,” Ginsburg told the Post.

Ginsburg — who was joined by justices Kennedy, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan in the 5-4 decision striking down DOMA — is a longtime supporter of the arts. Ginsburg also plans to officiate the Sep. 22 wedding of Washington Post food critic David Hagedorn and National Weather Service communications director, Michael Widomski, a promise she’d made to the pair on the day the court released its DOMA decision.

04
Sep
2013

O’Connor officiates same-sex wedding

Sandra Day O'Connor, gay news, Washington Blade, same-sex wedding

Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON—Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on Oct. 29 officiated a gay couple’s wedding inside the Supreme Court.

The Associated Press reported O’Connor married D.C. residents Jeffrey Trammell and Stuart Serkin during a private ceremony in the court’s lawyers’ lounge.

Trammell and Serkin’s nuptials are the second same-sex wedding that has taken place inside the U.S. Supreme Court since the justices in June found a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and struck down a portion of California’s Proposition 8. The AP reported Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg over the weekend officiated a gay New York couple’s wedding.

Ginsburg in September officiated the wedding of Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser and economist John Roberts.

31
Oct
2013

A look ahead at an intriguing 2013

As we welcome the New Year we can be sure that there will be a Supreme Court decision on our right to marry. We know the justices agreed to hear two cases: one on DOMA Section 3 and the other on California’s Proposition 8. Everyone and their uncle will be dissecting these cases and trying to predict an outcome. Lawyers will be giving us every possible scenario on each of them until the day the decision is rendered, which will most likely be the last possible day in June.

As a layman I see the court upholding the right to marry in California and overturning Section 3 of DOMA, with both decisions based on states’ rights. This seems to be the simplest thing for them to do if they are not prepared to take the final step and decide that under the 14th Amendment, same-sex marriages are protected by the Constitution. Of course, hope springs eternal that they will agree to invalidate all those obscene state constitutional amendments claiming that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

Setting aside the jokes made after Colorado and Washington State legalized marijuana and people said they now understood the Bible where it says, “if man lies down with man they must be stoned,” the reality is that these anti-marriage equality amendments were passed because people wouldn’t acknowledge the fact that marriage in the United States is a civil right, not a religious one. It is granted in a license by the state and the decision to follow that up with a religious ceremony is a personal one. I am not convinced the court is willing to tell all those people they are wrong just yet. That feeling is heightened when listening to Ruth Bader Ginsburg say she thinks the court may have ruled on Roe v. Wade before the country was ready for it. But then it is nearly impossible to predict what the court will do, as we saw in the decision on the Affordable Care Act.

Congress should be able to move on some social legislation in 2013 — possibly a fair and equitable immigration bill and maybe with Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) in the Senate even ENDA can move if we put enough pressure on the Congress. Surely in the first quarter of 2013 we can put enough pressure on the president to sign an executive order banning discrimination in federal contracting.

There will be more than enough happening in 2013 to keep us all talking and debating. Anyone in Dupont Circle should feel free to stop by the Java House coffee shop on 17th and ‘Q’ Street any morning to partake in a conversation/debate. Patrons there have fun anticipating the possible Hillary Clinton run in 2016 and analyze everything she does or says from a new haircut to talk of buying a new house to where she will accept speaking engagements to see how it might play into a candidacy. Speculation on what President Obama will do after his second term began even before the term has begun. Topics of conversation will surely include continued fascination with Michelle Obama’s wardrobe and guessing games over new Cabinet members, ambassadors and high-level appointments in the White House. Since your opinion is as valid as anyone else’s sitting at the table, feel free to join in the fun.

The more serious issues that will play out in 2013 include what happens in Afghanistan, Syria, Egypt, Iran, Israel and to the Palestinian people. How many more people will lose their lives as these fights continue? Most agree that 2013 will not see the end of the turmoil in any of those places but we can and must pray that our leaders will find equitable solutions that will allow people to live in peace.

As we rejoice at the swearing in of the new Congress, especially members like Sen. Baldwin, and bid adieu to others like Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) we must all remain vigilant and active if we are to advance the causes we believe in. As the president is sworn in to his second term we must continue to pressure him to stay strong in moving a progressive agenda forward as we stand strong at his side and pressure the members of Congress to do the same.

2013 could become one of the most exciting political years in a long time. We will surely be able to claim some victories if each and every one of us remains involved and continues to speak out for what we believe.

03
Jan
2013

HISTORIC: Supreme Court hears oral arguments on Prop 8

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on California's Proposition 8 on Tuesday (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on California’s Prop 8 on Tuesday. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The atmosphere at the U.S. Supreme Court was tense on Tuesday as justices hammered attorneys with tough questions on the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 — with a particular emphasis on inquiries about standing.

Within moments of the opening of the oral arguments in the Prop 8 case, known as Hollingsworth v. Perry, justices interrupted both Charles Cooper, who is arguing in favor of Prop 8, and Ted Olson, who is arguing against it on behalf of two plaintiff gay couples, with questions about standing.

CHECK OUT THE AUDIO OF THE ORAL ARGUMENTS HERE!

Anti-gay groups, such as ProtectMarriage.com, are defending Prop 8 in court because California officials — Gov. Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris — have elected not to do so. Whether these groups have standing to defend the law is a question posed by the court.

Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was appointed by President Obama, was among those asking questions about standing, saying it’s “counterintuitive” for a state to grant standing to proponents of a ballot initiative because their views are in support of the measure.

Cooper said the California Supreme Court in 2011 ruled that proponents of a ballot initiative like Prop 8 bear a responsibility to defend the measure in court should state officials decline to do so. Otherwise, public officials could effectively veto a measure by declining to defend it.

But Olson, a former U.S. solicitor general under President George W. Bush, disputed the notion that anti-gay groups have standing in the Prop 8 case because they are not elected officials.

“Because you’re not an officer of the State of California, you don’t have a fiduciary duty to the State of California, you’re not bound by the ethical standards of an officer of the State of California to represent the State of California, you could have conflicts of interest,” Olson said. “And as I said, you could be incurring enormous legal fees on behalf of the state when the state hasn’t decided to go that route.”

The issue of standing is seen as crucial because if the court determines that anti-gay groups don’t have standing to defend Prop 8, the ruling of U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker would remain in place and marriage rights for same-sex couples would likely be restored in California.

Associate Justice Samuel Alito expressed skepticism during the oral arguments that proponents of Prop 8 lack standing to defend their ballot measure, indicating someone should be able to defend the statute if public officials decline to do so.

“In a state that has initiative, the whole process would be defeated if the only people who could defend the statute are the elected public officials,” Alito said. “The whole point … of the initiative process was to allow the people to circumvent public officials about whom they were suspicious.”

Justices known for being conservative hinted at the way they may rule in the case. Alito, appointed by former President George W. Bush, cautioned against a ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, which he said is “newer than cell phones and the Internet.”

“There isn’t a lot of data about its effect,” Alito said. “It may turn out to be a good thing. It may turn out not to be a good thing.”

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia said the legalization of same-sex marriage would necessitate the legalization of gay adoption, and sociologists have “considerable disagreements” on whether that causes harm to a child.

“I don’t think we know the answer to that question,” Scalia said.

It’s unclear what disagreements Scalia was referencing. Just last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics endorsed same-sex marriage, saying it helps children. Following Scalia’s remarks, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg reminded Scalia that adoption isn’t at issue because California has legalized adoption rights for gay couples.

Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, an appointee of former President Reagan who’s considered a swing vote, acknowledged that sociological information on the issue is new, but said children who are currently living with same-sex partners are suffering “legal injury” as a result of Prop 8.

“There is an immediate legal injury or legal — what could be a legal injury, and that’s the voice of these children,” Kennedy said. “There are some 40,000 children in California … that live with same-sex parents, and they want their parents to have full recognition and full status.”

Chief Justice John Roberts, another Bush appointee, made comments in an exchange with Olson suggesting he doesn’t believe gay couples have a right to marry. Many had hoped Roberts would vote to overturn Prop 8 because he sided with more liberal justices in the court decision upholding the health care reform law.

“I’m not sure that it’s right to view this as excluding a particular group,” Roberts said. “When the institution of marriage developed historically, people didn’t get around and say let’s have this institution, but let’s keep out homosexuals. The institution developed to serve purposes that, by their nature, didn’t include homosexual couples.”

When Olson pointed out that gay couples had the right to marry before Prop 8 was passed, Roberts responded by saying that it was only 140 days after the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage.

Roberts then asked Olson whether it’s more reasonable to view the situation as the state court making a change to an institution that’s “been around since time immemorial.”

“The California Supreme Court, like this Supreme Court, decides what the law is,” Olson replied. “The California Supreme Court decided that the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of that California Constitution did not permit excluding gays and lesbians from the right to get married.”

The courtroom was crowded with observers who were both for and against Prop 8. Among those in attendance was California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who gained notoriety in 2004 when as San Francisco mayor he distributed marriage licenses to gay couples before the state court ordered him to stop.

U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli argued against Prop 8 on behalf of the Obama administration, saying Prop 8 should be struck down because gay people have “suffered a history of discrimination” and the law should be subject to heightened scrutiny.

Verrilli said the Obama administration is “not taking a position” on whether same-sex marriage should be legalized throughout the country as a result of the ruling — but said the door could be open to such a ruling in future cases. Instead, Verrilli advocated the idea of a “nine-state solution.” Under that approach, states that offer domestic partnerships or civil unions, but not same-sex marriage, would have to allow gay couples to enter into the union of marriage.

The solicitor general said California’s own domestic partnership law providing gay couples legal benefits but not the distinction of marriage “undercuts” any rationale for withholding the label of marriage for gay couples.

But the idea of a nine-state solution seemed distasteful to justices. Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, an appointee of former President Bill Clinton, noted that states that provide absolutely no legal recognition to gay couples provide more harm to gay couples than the states that offer domestic partnerships.

Verrili also maintained the Obama administration isn’t taking a position on whether proponents of Prop 8 have standing to defend the law, but said the notion they lack Article III standing in court is the stronger argument.

Both the attorneys for and against Prop 8 also made their cases on the constitutionality of the measure that were along the lines of the briefs they previously submitted to the court.

Cooper maintained California voters in 2008 were essentially hitting a “pause button” by approving Prop 8 and were awaiting further information of the impact on other parts of the country where same-sex marriage is legal.

“That would hardly be irrational for that voter to say, I believe that this experiment, which is now only four years old, even in Massachusetts, the oldest state that is conducting it, to say, I think it better for California to hit the pause button and await additional information from the jurisdictions where this experiment is still maturing,” Cooper said.

Olson, on the other hand, argued Prop 8 was unconstitutional because the measure walls off from a certain group of people the right to marry.

“It’s an individual right that this court again and again and again has said: the right to get married, the right to have the relationship of marriage a personal right,” Olson said. “It’s a part of the right of privacy, association, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

26
Mar
2013

How will Supreme Court rule on marriage?

Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas, Sonia Sotomayor, Antonin Scalia, Stephen Breyer, John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court are expected to issue rulings on the Prop 8 and DOMA cases in June. (Photo public domain)

The nine members of the U.S. Supreme Court are expected to reach a decision by the end of June in two high-profile LGBT rights cases on which they heard oral arguments last week challenging California’s Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

The justices could reach any number of decisions on either or both of the cases — upholding the anti-gay measures, dismissing the cases for lack of standing or jurisdiction, striking down Prop 8 and DOMA on grounds they violate the rights of same-sex couples under the U.S. Constitution — or even issuing a national ruling in favor of marriage equality.

Predicting how they might rule is tricky. But several of the justices made statements and asked questions during the oral arguments that offered some hints. Perhaps more significantly, many of them have a record of ruling in gay rights cases that might indicate their leanings on marriage. The Washington Blade has compiled profiles of the justices to assess how they might rule in the two marriage cases before them.

In addition to examining their comments during the arguments, the Blade has looked at how they ruled in other high-profile gay rights cases. One is the 1996 case of Romer v. Evans in which the Supreme Court struck down Colorado’s Amendment 2, which would have prohibited municipalities from passing non-discrimination ordinances protecting LGBT people. Another is the 2003 case of Lawrence v. Texas in which the Supreme Court struck down state sodomy laws.

The Blade also looked at the court ruling in the 2010 case of Christian Legal Society v. Martinez. In that case, the court upheld the Hastings College of Law’s non-discrimination policy against a challenge from Hastings Christian Fellowship, which sought to overturn the policy to maintain its status as an official school group while prohibiting LGBT people from holding positions as officers.

John Roberts, Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade

Chief Justice John Roberts (Photo public domain)

1. Chief Justice John Roberts

The chief justice of the Supreme Court seemed skeptical during oral arguments that Prop 8 and DOMA should be struck down as unconstitutional. He also seemed dismissive of the notion that LGBT people lack political power.

In an exchange with attorney Robbie Kaplan, Chief Justice John Roberts disputed that gay people lack political power — a characteristic that the court has considered in weighing whether a group should be considered a suspect class.

“As far as I can tell, political figures are falling over themselves to endorse your side of the case,” Roberts said.

The chief justice was likely referring to the trend of U.S. senators announcing their support for marriage equality, which just this week added Sens. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). When Kaplan pointed out that no group has been subject to referenda in recent years like gay people, Roberts seemed unmoved.

“You just referred to a sea change in people’s understandings and values from 1996, when DOMA was enacted, and I’m just trying to see where that comes from, if not from the political effectiveness of groups on your side,” Roberts said.

Roberts, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, hasn’t ruled on many gay rights cases during his time on the bench. Still, Roberts ruled as part of the dissent that deemed exclusion of LGBT students was acceptable in the Christian Legal Society case.

On the other hand, Roberts in 1996 helped gay rights activists as part of his law firm’s pro bono work in preparation for the Romer case. He also has a lesbian cousin, Jean Podrasky, who attended arguments on Prop 8.

Suzanne Goldberg, a lesbian and co-director of Columbia University’s Center for Gender & Sexuality Law, pointed to another comment Roberts made indicating a parent forcing a child to make friends with another child changes the definition of friendship.

“It suggested that he might be less open to recognizing marriage rights for same-sex couples than the Olson-Boies team had anticipated,” Goldberg said.

Antonin Scalia, Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia (Photo public domain)

2. Associate Justice Antonin Scalia

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, viewed by many as the most anti-gay of the justices, mused that being raised by gay parents may not be good for a child — an argument made by many anti-gay groups.

“If you redefine marriage to include same-sex couples, you must permit adoption by same-sex couples, and there’s considerable disagreement among sociologists as to what the consequences of raising a child in a single-sex family, whether that is harmful to the child or not,” Scalia said. “Some states do not permit adoption by same-sex couples for that reason.”

Those words are consistent with anti-gay views that Scalia has expressed in the past. Most notably, speaking at Princeton in December, Scalia compared bans on sodomy to laws against murder, saying, “If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against other things?”

Since his confirmation to the court, Scalia has not only made anti-gay rulings, but has taken the lead on the opinions. The Reagan-appointed justice wrote the dissenting opinions in the Romer and Lawrence cases and joined with other dissenting justices in ruling for LGBT exclusion in the Christian Legal Society case.

Doug NeJaime, who’s gay and a professor at Loyola Law School, said Scalia is likely to rule to uphold Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.

“Justice Scalia has made clear in earlier opinions … that legislation can be justified merely by moral disapproval of homosexuality, even though a majority of the court has rejected that position,” NeJaime said. “Moreover, under his theory of constitutional interpretation, he does not believe that lesbians and gay men have a constitutional basis for their claims in these cases.”

Anthony Kennedy, Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade

Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy (Photo public domain)

3. Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy

The justice who’s being most closely watched because of his reputation for being a swing vote — and his previous rulings in favor of gay rights — conveyed mixed sentiments during the arguments.

Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy contemplated the effect that overturning or sustaining Prop 8 would have on children based on the newness of same-sex marriage.

“We have five years of information to weigh against 2,000 years of history or more,” Kennedy said. “On the other hand, there is … what could be a legal injury, and that’s the voice of these children. There are some 40,000 children in California … that live with same-sex parents, and they want their parents to have full recognition and full status.”

A Reagan appointee, Kennedy authored the majority opinions in the Romer and Lawrence cases that struck down anti-gay measures in those lawsuits. In the Christian Legal Society case, Kennedy also ruled in favor of requiring student groups to be open to all students regardless of LGBT status.

That’s what makes Kennedy’s comment questioning the Ninth Circuit ruling against Prop 8, which was largely based on his opinion in Romer, particularly noteworthy.

“The rationale of the Ninth Circuit was much more narrow,” Kennedy said. “It basically said that California, which has been more generous, more open to protecting same-sex couples than almost any state in the union, just didn’t go far enough, and it’s being penalized for not going far enough. That’s a very odd rationale on which to sustain this opinion.”

Nan Hunter, a lesbian law professor at Georgetown University, said the “single most powerful vibe” she received from Kennedy during arguments was his ambivalence.

“My best guess is that in the Perry case, he will rule in some way that avoids discussion of Prop 8′s constitutionality and that in the Windsor case, he will conclude that DOMA is unconstitutional, but his opinion may invoke federalism as much as it does the Equal Protection Clause,” Hunter said.

Clarence Thomas, Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade

Associate Justice Clarence Thomas (Photo public domain)

4. Associate Justice Clarence Thomas

In accordance with his custom, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas remained silent for the duration of oral arguments in the marriage cases.

Thomas is known for not asking questions. In January, after seven years of silence, the George H.W. Bush-appointed justice made news when he broke his tradition and cracked a joke about the competency of an attorney during a case unrelated to marriage.

But Thomas has a history of taking the anti-gay side. He ruled in the dissent in the Romer and Lawrence cases and ruled for LGBT exclusion in the Christian Legal Society case.

Chris Stoll, a senior staff attorney for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said oral arguments don’t offer any information on how Thomas might rule, but noted the justice’s history of anti-gay opinions.

“He is quite conservative and historically has voted with the other conservative justices in cases involving LGBT equality,” Stoll said.

5. Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade

Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Photo public domain)

One justice who has a history of ruling in favor of gay rights indicated a disdain for DOMA during oral arguments.

Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the 1996 law creates two different kinds of unions for same-sex and opposite-sex couples: “the full marriage, and then this sort of skim milk marriage.”

While questioning attorney Paul Clement, Ginsburg more distinctly articulated the problems for gay couples under DOMA by enumerating benefits denied to them under the law.

“The problem is if we are totally for the states’ decision that there is a marriage between two people, for the federal government then to come in to say no joint return, no marital deduction, no Social Security benefits; your spouse is very sick but you can’t get leave; people — if that set of attributes, one might well ask, what kind of marriage is this?” Ginsburg said.

Ginsburg also has a history suggesting she’d be willing to rule against Prop 8 and DOMA. The Clinton-appointed justice ruled in favor of LGBT advocates in the Romer, Lawrence and Christian Legal Society cases. Prior to her confirmation as a Supreme Court justice, Ginsburg was a women’s rights advocate and co-founder of the women’s rights project at the American Civil Liberties Union.

David Gans, civil rights director for the progressive Constitutional Accountability Center, said he considers Ginsburg a likely vote to strike down DOMA and Prop 8 based on her history of rulings and comments made in court.

“I think her comments tended to be across the board very skeptical of the justifications offered, and, of course, her record, both as an advocate and justice is to honor the constitutional guarantee of equal protection applies to all persons,” Gans said.

Stephen Breyer, Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade

Associate Justice Stephen Breyer (Photo public domain)

6. Associate Justice Stephen Breyer

The other Clinton appointee on the bench also made comments during the Prop 8 arguments suggesting he might rule in favor of marriage rights for gay couples.

Associate Justice Stephen Breyer was dismissive of Cooper’s assertion that marriage is for procreation, observing California allows straight couples who cannot have children to marry.

“What precisely is the way in which allowing gay couples to marry would interfere with the vision of marriage as procreation of children that allowing sterile couples of different sexes to marry would not?” Breyer said. “I mean, there are lots of people who get married who can’t have children.”

And Breyer’s earlier rulings suggest he would be amenable to striking down Prop 8 and DOMA. Breyer joined Kennedy and other justices in the pro-gay rulings for Romer and Lawrence and sided with LGBT inclusion in the Christian Legal Society Case.

Gans said Breyer’s comments during the Prop 8 arguments indicate his rulings on the anti-gay measures will likely be consistent with his earlier decisions.

“Justice Breyer’s questions during oral argument suggested that he would find that discriminatory marriage laws violate the constitutional guarantee of equal protection for all persons,” Gans said.

Samuel Alito, Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade

Associate Justice Samuel Alito (Photo public domain)

7. Associate Justice Samuel Alito

Associate Justice Samuel Alito expressed concerns about same-sex marriage, quipping that it’s “newer than cell phones or the Internet.”

“Same-sex marriage is very new,” Alito said. “I think it was first adopted in the Netherlands in 2000. So there isn’t a lot of data about its effect. And it may turn out to be a good thing; it may turn out not to be a good thing, as the supporters of Proposition 8 apparently believe.”

An appointee of President George W. Bush, Alito hasn’t been on the court long enough to have ruled in the earlier landmark Lawrence and Romer cases. But he wrote the dissenting opinion in favor of LGBT exclusion in the Christian Legal Society case.

Lavi Soloway, a gay immigration attorney and co-founder of The DOMA Project, said he expects Alito to be consistent and issue an anti-gay decision in the cases before him — taking note of the exchange in the Prop 8 case.

“This line of thinking was disappointing; it not only belittled the fight for equality, but suggested that Justice Alito would first need to be convinced of the ‘effects’ of same-sex marriage before he could determine whether gay and lesbian Americans have a constitutionally protected right to marry,” Soloway said. “This exchange suggested to me that Alito will most likely vote to uphold Prop 8, preferring that legislatures continue to wrestle with this issue.”

Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade

Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor (Photo public domain)

8. Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Another justice — this one appointed by President Obama — asked some of the most pointed questions about whether there’s any reason anti-gay laws could survive the court’s lowest standard of review.

Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor pressed attorney Charles Cooper on whether he could conceive of anti-gay laws on other issues other than marriage that could survive rational basis review. The answer from Cooper was that he could not.

“If that is true, then why aren’t they a class?” Sotomayor responded. “If they’re a class that makes any other discrimination improper, irrational, then why aren’t we treating them as a class for this one thing?”

Sotomayor’s response suggests she might agree with the Obama administration that laws related to sexual orientation should be subjected to heightened scrutiny, or a greater assumption they’re unconstitutional.

A newcomer to the court, Sotomayor hasn’t had the opportunity to rule on many of the earlier LGBT rights cases that have come before the bench. But in the Christian Legal Society case, she joined four other justices in ruling student groups had to accept all students regardless of LGBT status.

Notably, Sotomayor was the only one among nine justices who responded to a letter from a North Carolina 6th grader named Cameron urging justices to rule in favor of marriage equality. The justice said she had no comment on the marriage cases, but urged Cameron to keep “dreaming big.”

NCLR’s Stoll pointed to Sotomayor’s exchange with Cooper as evidence she’d rule against Prop 8 and had similar expectations for how she’d rule on DOMA.

“She seemed perplexed and unpersuaded by Cooper’s argument that excluding gay people from marriage somehow promotes ‘responsible procreation’ by different-sex couples,” Stoll said.

Elena Kagan, Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade

Associate Justice Elena Kagan (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

9. Associate Justice Elena Kagan

Yet another justice appointed by President Obama seemed skeptical about arguments presented by proponents of Prop 8 and DOMA.

Associate Justice Elena Kagan suggested to attorney Paul Clement that Congress may have had another motive other than uniformity when it determined to pass the anti-gay law.

“This was a real difference in the uniformity that the federal government was pursuing,” Kagan said. “And it suggests that maybe something — maybe Congress had something different in mind than uniformity.”

Clement offered a lengthy response in which he talked about federal bans on polygamy and laws after the Civil War allowing freed slaves to marry. But Kagan responded by reading from the House report on DOMA, which states the law was passed “to reflect an honor of collective moral judgment and to express moral disapproval of homosexuality” — deemed a “gotcha” moment that elicited laughter from those in the courtroom.

During the Prop 8 arguments, Kagan was also skeptical of Cooper’s argument that the purpose of marriage is procreation and asked for a legitimate reason for excluding same-sex couples from marriage.

“Is there any reason that you have for excluding them?” Kagan said. “In other words, you’re saying, well, if we allow same-sex couples to marry, it doesn’t serve the state’s interest. But do you go further and say that it harms any state interest?”

Like Sotomayor, Kagan is a relative newcomer to the court and hasn’t had the opportunity to rule on gay cases. During her confirmation hearing, Kagan wouldn’t say whether the she thinks the U.S. Constitution guarantees same-sex couples the right to marry.

Still, Loyola’s NeJaime said Kagan seemed bothered during oral arguments by equal protections concerns presented by Prop 8 and DOMA.

“Given her lengthy questions about the relationship between age and procreative ability, she seems unconvinced by the ‘responsible procreation’ rationale for same-sex marriage bans,” NeJaime said. “And given her reading of the House report on DOMA regarding the ‘moral disapproval of homosexuality,’ she is suggesting that the law may not survive rational basis review.”

03
Apr
2013

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