Ask Lambda Legal: Marriage and the Supreme Court

Jon Davidson, Director Jurídico, Lambda Legal
Foto: Lambda Legal

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Jon Davidson, Director Jurídico, Lambda Legal  Foto: Lambda Legal

Jon Davidson, Director Jurídico, Lambda Legal
Foto: Lambda Legal

By: Jon Davidson, Legal Director, Lambda Legal–

Dear Lambda Legal,

Q: I was talking with friends about the Supreme Court hearings about Prop 8 in California and DOMA, and some of us were really encouraged by the news reports. Are we being overly optimistic?

A:  With arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry concerning Proposition 8 in California and United States v. Windsor concerning the so — called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), we have just witnessed two historic days in the United States Supreme Court. I attended the hearings and I’m happy to say I felt encouraged as well!

There were several moments that made me smile. During arguments in Perry, the lawyer arguing in support of Prop 8 conceded that the government almost never has even a legitimate reason for discriminating based on sexual orientation — a concession that echoes what we and other advocates for equality have been saying for years. In another exchange, Justice Anthony Kennedy stated his concern for the nearly 40,000 children living in California with parents who are same-sex couples and referred to the “immediate legal injury” they are suffering. Finally, the lawyer defending Prop 8 tried to argue that only different-sex couples could procreate together — an argument made by many anti-gay groups around the country — and was refuted several times. Justice Elena Kagan’s explained that, while that might be grounds for letting them marry, it did not explain why same-sex couples should be excluded from the institution. Further, Justice Kagan asked about marriage between different-sex couples who are both over 55 and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg referenced an earlier Supreme Court case that held that even those locked up in prison with no possibility of procreation have the right to marry. [pullquote]Further, Justice Kagan asked about marriage between different-sex couples who are both over 55 and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg referenced an earlier Supreme Court case that held that even those locked up in prison with no possibility of procreation have the right to marry.[/pullquote]

During arguments in Windsor, Justice Anthony Kennedy again expressed concern about the rights of children of same-sex couples. When the other side argued that the goal of DOMA was to protect states and allow them to experiment, Justice Kennedy said he was troubled by the fact that DOMA only “helps” the states that do not want to respect marriages entered by lesbians and gay men. Justice Sonia Sotomayor questioned what right the federal government had to create categories of marriage. In one of the most positive exchanges, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted the harms imposed by DOMA. She discussed how federal marriage benefits are pervasive and “touch every aspect of life,” and said DOMA diminishes what numerous states have said is a marriage as “sort of skim-milk marriage.”

It was exactly 10 years ago that the Supreme Court overturned all remaining U.S. sodomy laws in Lambda Legal’s landmark case Lawrence v. Texas. Since then, we’ve seen much legal progress and social change on marriage for same-sex couples. The Supreme Court hearings on Proposition 8 and DOMA continued that momentum. Until June, when the decisions are expected, I’m remaining hopeful.

If you feel you have been discriminated against based on your sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status, please contact our Legal Help Desk www.lambdalegal.org/help.

[Read this story in Spanish at: http://tiny.cc/9wqfww]

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