Supreme Court Hears California Case on Same-Sex Marriage Decision Could Change the Law in All 50 States
On March 26th, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry regarding the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, an initiative petition which amended the state constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Challengers to the law say that Prop 8 violates the U.S. Constitution, in particular the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. If so, the decision of the Supreme Court may go beyond California and affect how marriage can be defined in all 50 states, including Alabama.
You can listen to the oral arguments made to the court and read the transcript here.
Was the case properly brought before the court?
It is not uncommon for the Supreme Court to deal with a controversial case on procedural grounds, rather than dealing with the merits of the case. There was considerable discussion during the hearing about whether the proponents of Prop 8, who brought the suit to enforce the law, have standing to sue. Normally, it is the Attorney General’s job to enforce or defend the laws of the state, and not the job of private citizens. The court would have an easy way out to say that the citizens lacked standing to bring the suit, or that the issue is a political question better addressed through the political process than the courts, and decline to reach a decision on the merits.
Is a ban on Same-Sex Marriage Constitutional?
A state cannot enact a law that discriminates against a group of people unless it has at least some rational basis for doing so. But if that group of people belong to what is known as a “suspect class,” such as a racial minority, then the government’s action is strictly scrutinized and will probably fail. Much of the debate in court focused on whether homosexuals should be considered a suspect class. Counsel for Prop 8 admitted that other discrimination against people based on sexual orientation would not be allowed, although he held fast that the state’s interest in defining marriage is different.
The proponents of Prop 8 seemed to rest their argument on the state’s interest in responsible procreation. But what about marriages between senior citizens or infertile couples? Not every marriage has to have procreation as its purpose. And does allowing same-sex marriage actually harm the state’s interest in procreation, even if it doesn’t further that interest? These vexing questions were posed by the Justices during oral argument. Expect a discussion of these issues when the decision is reached, if the court deals with the case on the merits.
How could this case affect Alabama?
Alabama does not recognize same-sex marriage or even civil unions. In fact, the Alabama Constitution was amended in 2006 by the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment (Amendment 774) so that it would be unconstitutional for the state to perform a same-sex marriage or civil union or recognize one entered into in another state. This amendment was passed through the referendum process and was overwhelmingly adopted by the people. Like California’s Prop 8, the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment defines marriage as between a man and a woman. If the Supreme Court strikes down Proposition 8 as unconstitutional, it could at the same time declare any such measures in other states unconstitutional as well.
Experienced Family Law and Estate Planning Attorneys for Alabamans
Regardless of the outcome of Hollingsworth v. Perry, or the federal Defense of Marriage Act case also before the Supreme Court this term, gay individuals and couples in Alabama will continue to face legal issues in the family law and estate planning arena, from cohabitation agreements to adoptions issues and more. For sound legal and practical advice in the Huntsville-Decatur region, contact the Hawkins Law Firm in Guntersville, Huntsville, and Arab, Alabama.