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Michigan's Marriage Equality Ruling: A Summary and Analysis

BY ARI EZRA WALDMAN

On Friday, District Judge Bernard Friedman, a Reagan appointee to the bench, declared Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional (read the opinion here). As I have argued several times during this unprecedented string of marriage equality rulings in the lower federal courts, the decision seems almost routine: a state's ban on gays marrying violates equal protection because it treats similarly situated persons differently for no legitimate reason.

FriedmanThe state tried to argue the standard, yet hopeless case--namely, that the ban promotes the "optimal child-rearing environment," allows the state to "proceed with caution" in an area of great social change, and expresses the collective "tradition and morality" of the citizens of the state.

In response, the court said two things in response: First, that some of these reasons are not even legitimate state goals, and, second, even if they all are, banning gays from marrying is so unrelated to these ostensible goals that the ban makes no sense.

We've heard these arguments before. And we've seen then struck down before, in states as different as Massachusetts (back in 2004) and in Utah ten years later.

What was unique about this decision is that, like Judge Vaughn Walker's decision in August 2010 striking down California's ban on same-sex marriage, it followed a trial, with witness testimony and cross examination. That hasn't happened all that often since we began this fight. And despite the benefits to our cause, i.e., putting truth on the record, it may happen even less often going forward because the Supreme Court's decision in Windsor made trials unnecessary.

Below, I briefly summarize the Michigan case and flesh out the argument that full trials, though a boon for our side, are being made superfluous by Windsor.

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The Real Reason Arizona's Anti-Gay Discrimination Bill Was So Bad

Press_brewer

BY ARI EZRA WALDMAN

When Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed an odious discrimination bill that would have allowed private individuals and companies to deny service to and otherwise discriminate against gay persons, most people breathed a collective sigh of relief. Many Republicans were happy to erase this stain from their brand, though conservatives in several states have other plans. Most Americans were just happy Jim Crow was not coming back.

Not everyone was so pleased. The right wing was, of course, up in arms. But few of us spend much time worrying about what Michelle Bachmann or Rush Limbaugh think. Then there was George Will, a conservative commentator without the Hellfire that rises from much of today's extreme right. Mr. Will coats his comments with his particular brand of amiability and an aw-shucks attitude in a bow tie. But his words were the most malicious.

WillHere's what he said in reaction to the veto:

It's a funny kind of sore winner in the gay rights movement that would say, 'A photographer doesn't want to photograph my wedding -- I've got lots of other photographers I could go to, but I'm going to use the hammer of government to force them to do this.'... It's not neighborly and it's not nice. The gay rights movement is winning. They should be, as I say, not sore winners.

He characterizes us as winners, which is both a half-truth and red meat for his conservative audience. We have not won anything. Sure, we are racking up notable victories, but you can still be fired in 29 states simply for being gay and I cannot marry the man I love in 33 states. Yet arguing that the fight is already over heightens the feverish paranoia of his readers and listeners; that is, he is warning conservatives that the gays already took marriage away from you and now they're coming for something more.

He also characterizes gays as childish, as ungrateful "sore winners" who do not know how to be neighborly, mature, and adult about things. This may sound peevish and petty, but it also fits within a long standing conservative narrative about gay people as unserious, untrustworthy, small, and entirely hedonistic, just like children.

Mr. Will's greatest sin, however, is in his offensive misconstrual of the substantitive fight. To him, we have a choice between this or that photographer -- "I've got lots of other photographers I could go to" -- suggesting that mere choice is the paradigm for equality. This is the grave error libertarians commit, as well. Equality is barely half a loaf if its pinnacle is the ability to choose. True equality is also about equal dignity, about not being treated like a second-class citizens simply because of who you are. Avoiding state sanctioned discrimination because you may have another choice does not change the underlying fact of discrimination.

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A Win for Marriage Equality in Texas: Summary and Analysis

By ARI EZRA WALDMAN

A federal judge in Texas issued an opinion today declaring that the state's refusal to allow gays to marry violates the federal constitution. At its core, this case -- De Leon v. Perry -- looks a lot like some of our other recent federal marriage equality cases. Some have been broader than others, but most, like De Leon, make two conclusions: First, that denying gays the right to marry violates the Due Process Clause because marriage is an important right that cannot be taken away light and, second, marriage discrimination violates the Equal Protection Clause because a state cannot treat opposite-sex and same-sex couples differently for no good reason.

3_texasJudge Garcia's decision is notable for several reasons. I will highlight two here at the outset. First, he does not dive into the heart of the level of scrutiny debate. He is content to say that marriage discrimination cannot even pass a low rational basis test. Second, he gives us a law nerd moment that students of gay rights will read for years to come to show how one case leads to the next which leads to the next and so on. Without Windsor, this case would look very different; without Lawrence, we wouldn't have gotten Windsor. And without Romer, we wouldn't have gotten Lawrence. As Judge Garcia writes:

Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our United States Constitution.

And how does he know that and that it applies to the notoriously marginalized LGBT community? Judge Garcia continues:

Supreme Court precedent prohibits states from passing legislation born out of animosity against homosexuals (Romer), has extended constitutional protection to the moral and sexual choices of homosexuals (Lawrence), and prohibits the federal government from treating state-sanctioned opposite-sex marriages and same-sex marriages differently (Windsor).

Given that, the unconstitutionality of Texas's discriminatory statute seems pretty clear.

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Virginia's Gay Marriage Ban Struck Down: Analysis of the Ruling

Virginia

By ARI EZRA WALDMAN

Happy Valentine's Day! Lately, it seems like every day brings another falling domino in the fight for marriage freedom. Today's victory comes from Virginia, where a federal judge declared the state's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. The case, Bostic v. Rainey, looks a lot like every other marriage case -- loving and committed same-sex couples want nothing more than to have their love recognized by the state. 

Arenda_allenJudge Arenda Wright Allen, a former Judge Advocate General in the Navy and public defender and an Obama appointee to the federal bench, declared Virginia's ban unconstitutional, but took a different path than some other judges who have recently come to similar conclusions. The decision concludes that marriage is a fundamental right and, as such, any ban on fundamental rights has to be evaluated under strict scrutiny. But Judge Wright Allen notes that she does not have to go the far: the ban fails very easily under equal protection, and under the lowest form of scrutiny. But, as you will see from our discussion below, this decision feeds off recent decisions elsewhere on marriage equality, proving that a victory in one case does indeed make it easier to win the next case.

Regular Towleroad readers should be familiar with this argument. It does not break any new ground and will probably stand up at the appellate level. And although the Fourth Circuit has for years been a deeply conservative court, President Obama's recent appointees have tipped the balance. Even if they had not, we have seen many Republican appointees honestly apply the law and find these bans unconstitutional.

Follow me for a summary of the Bostic decision, AFTER THE JUMP...

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Denial of ‘Second Parent’ Adoption Puts Same-Sex Couples Parental Rights in Jeopardy

BY RICHARD VAUGHN and ARI EZRA WALDMAN

Earlier this month, in a ruling that rocked the worlds of same-sex couples and attorneys alike, a Brooklyn court denied the non-biological mother of a child born to a married lesbian couple the right to legally adopt her child.

VaughnThis seemingly arcane quadrant of family law matters because this process of adoption has, traditionally, been the only legal tool protecting gay families when they travel to marriage discrimination states. A biological parent has parental rights, obviously. But her non-married cohabitant, which is how marriage discrimination states look at same-sex spouses, is not considered a parent. She is considered a stranger even though she helps feed, raise, and care for the child.

But in a world of marriage equality, this form of adoption seems unnecessary. Brooklyn Surrogate’s Court Judge Margarita López Torres reasoned that New York recognizes the couple’s marriage and the names of both mothers appear on the child’s birth certificate. Thus, the judge wrote in her decision, the non-biological mother is already the legal parent of her child.

The “purpose and effect" of adoption is “…to create a new legal relationship where one did not previously exist. Adoption is not utilized for, nor…is it available to reaffirm, an already existing parent/child relationship.”

That makes sense. But, as we discuss below, the decision represents ideals over reality and endangers families run by same-sex couples.

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Gay Jurors and Marriage Equality: The Common Legal Thread

BY ARI EZRA WALDMAN

We all know that some of our best marriage equality news of late has come from unexpected places--namely, Utah and Oklahoma. Federal judges in even deeply conservative states are starting to realize the thinness of anti-equality arguments and the long arm of the Supreme Court's decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in Windsor v. United States.

JuryThe narrative of marriage equality progress is bound up with a recent story out of the Ninth Circuit, in which a three-judge panel of the appellate court found that you cannot exclude a person from a jury simply because that person is gay. More to the point, the court not only concluded that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation demanded heightened scrutiny, but cited Windsor in support!

This is big news. Windsor did not really say anything about scrutiny levels; it kept the unclear status quo from Lawrence despite lower court nudges toward heightened scrutiny. If Windsor takes on this broader, though still eminently reasonable, interpretation, the case has the potential to pave the way for full equality under the law.

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