We’ve had dozens of awesome rulings on marriage equality over the last year and a half, but the latest from Florida might be the best one yet.
Judge Robert L. Hinkle has written a pretty amazing takedown of the homophobic arguments put forth by antigay lawyers. At every step of the way, he not only demolishes our opponents’ claims, but does so with extensive citations of legal precedent.
The ruling in the two consolidated cases, Brenner and Grimsley, is one of the best-cited decisions we’ve seen lately. But reading dense legal decisions can be kind of dull, so we’ve gone through and pulled out our favorite citations, and explained why they’re so awesome in plain English.
Read on, learn why the case for marriage equality is backed up by decades of legal precedent, and impress your friends with your encyclopedic knowledge of the law.
United States v. Windsor
This was the case from 2013 that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (or at least, part of it; and without that part, it really doesn’t have any teeth left). Hinkle writes:
Since that decision, 19 different federal courts, now including this one, have ruled on the constitutionality of state bans on same-sex marriage. The result: 19 consecutive victories for those challenging the bans. Based on these decisions, gays and lesbians, like all other adults, may choose a life partner and dignify the relationship through marriage. To paraphrase a civil-rights leader from the age when interracial marriage was first struck down, the arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.
That’s Martin Luther King Jr. that he’s paraphrasing there. It’s a nice little rhetorical trick: citing a phenomenal legal victory for civil rights, while also citing one of the greatest civil rights leaders of the 20th century. Well done, your honor!
Hinkle also points out that in Windsor, the court wrote three times that “a state’s interest ‘in defining and regulating marital relations’ is ‘subject to constitutional guarantees.’” In other words, sure, a state can make laws — but those laws have to conform to the US Constitution. Otherwise, the Constitution doesn’t have much of a point.
Recent Marriage Wins
He doesn’t go into much detail, other than “citing with approval” three of the other recent big marriage victories. Those are Bostic v. Schaefer (Virginia), Bishop v. Smith (Oklahoma) and Kitchen v. Herbert (Utah).
Bostic is AFER’s Virginia case, which has a petition pending before the US Supreme Court. One of the nicer quotes from that decision:
The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.
Our favorite Bishop quote is “There is no precise legal label for what has occurred in Supreme Court jurisprudence beginning with Romer in 1996 and culminating in Windsor in 2013, but this Court knows a rhetorical shift when it sees one.” Ha!
In Kitchen, the court ruled that it “defies reason” to say that permitting same-sex couples to marry will “affect the number of opposite-sex couples who … have children outside of marriage.”
The court also cited the Prop 8 case (thanks again, AFER).
Loving v. Virginia
We love Loving. It’s the Virginia case that overturned racist anti-miscegenation laws, decades before public opinion finally saw a majority support interracial marriage. Hinkle writes:
The defendants say interracial marriage is different from same-sex marriage. But on the question of whether a federal court has the authority — indeed, the duty — to strike down a state marriage provision if it conflicts with a party’s rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, Loving is on point and controlling. … in Loving, the Court held that Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage violated the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses, even though similar bans were widespread and of long standing. The Court did not cast the issue as whether the right to interracial marriage was fundamental.
This is super-important, because antigay lawyers like to claim that while Loving declared that marriage is a fundamental right, justices could not possibly have been talking about gay marriage. But what Hinkle is saying here is that it doesn’t matter what kind of marriage they’re talking about. Marriage is a fundamental right, period, no matter whose marriage we’re talking about.
Zablocki v. Redhail
This is a lesser-known case even among marriage equality experts, because it doesn’t actually address anything gay. Just the opposite, in fact: Zablocki addressed a law that banned people from marrying if they owed child support. Ultimately, the law was thrown out:
The Court did not ask whether the right not to pay child support was fundamental, or whether the right to marry while owing child support was fundamental; the Court started and ended its analysis on this issue with the accepted principle that the right to marry is fundamental.
Turner v. Safely
Another more obscure case. This one dealt with a law that prohibited prisoners from marrying. Again, the court ruled that while there may have been some legitimate interest in regulating marriage in prison, that interest is overruled by constitutional guarantees for fundamental rights like marriage.
The Court said the state’s interests in regulating its prisons were insufficient to overcome the prisoners’ fundamental right to marry. The Court did not ask whether there is a fundamental right to marry while in prison, as distinguished from the more general right to marry.
Washington v. Glucksberg (and Others Like It)
This case wasn’t about marriage at all — instead, it was about the right to end one’s life. The court held a more conservative view of physician-assisted suicide, ruling that it is not a fundamental right. But guess what right they did enumerate as fundamental? Yup, it was marriage, right at the top of the list.
Other rights as fundamental as marriage, according to this case: the right to have kids, to educate your kids as you see fit, to have a privacy, to use contraception, and to have an abortion. The day this ruling came out was probably not a great day for religious fundamentalists.
And the Washington v. Glucksberg case is far from the only ruling that put marriage firmly in the camp of fundamental rights. Others cited by Hinkle:
- Griswold v. Connecticut: the right to marry is included in the “fundamental right to privacy”
- Skinner v. Oklahoma ex rel. Williamson: labeling marriage “one of the basic civil rights of man”
- Meyer v. Nebraska: “[w]ithout doubt” the right “to marry” is within the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause
- Maynard v. Hill: marriage is “the most important relation in life”
Lawrence v. Texas
Ah, now this is our favorite of Hinkle’s citations, because he’s kind of trolling the Supreme Court by including it. You’ll remember the 2003 Lawrence case, right? That was the one that overturned laws that criminalized sex between two men.
Justice Scalia dissented from that decision, of course. And in his dissent, he furiously argued that states ought to be allowed to create laws based on private moral disapproval. Because if they can’t, he pointed out, then they’ll probably have to overturn their laws banning marriage equality.
“State laws against . . . same-sex marriage . . . are likewise sustainable only in light of Bowers’ validation of laws based on moral choices.”
Gee, what do you know, it turns out Scalia was right. How delightful for him!