The Supreme Court and Same-Sex Marriage

I support the policy outcomes in both of the same-sex marriage cases before the Supreme Court. I believe that the Defense of Marriage Act was bad law that treated people differently for no good reason whatsoever, and I am glad to have seen it overturned in the Court’s decision in Windsor. As law professor Randy Barnett, who wrote an amicus brief in the Windsor case, points out,

. . . DOMA was unconstitutional because (a) Congress had no enumerated power to regulate or “defend” marriage by imposing its definition on the states, and (b) DOMA was not necessary and proper for carrying into execution any of its enumerated powers.  By operating in so sweeping and undiscriminating a manner, DOMA was exceeded its enumerated powers by enacting a law that by design interfered with the operation of the traditional state regulation of marriage.  But overlooked in debates about our argument, we also made this federalism claim in the context of equal protection:  (c) DOMA’s sweeping and indiscriminate application to over a thousand federal statutes could not pass any level of equal protection scrutiny, even the most deferential, because Congress failed to identify a federal interest why each of these disparate federal laws should not track state laws defining marriage, as had previously been the case.

I agree with this reasoning, and although–as Professor Barnett points out–Justice Kennedy’s opinion adopted this reasoning “with a twist,” the fact remains that “federalism wins out in theory as well as in practice” when it comes to the same-sex marriage cases, which is good both for federalism, and for the cause of equality in general.

A very good analysis of the DOMA case is offered by Timothy Sandefur, who–while agreeing with the policy outcome of the case–does state his belief that “the Court went out of its way to escape the long-standing limits on its jurisdiction in order to issue this precedent.” And I also agree with the way that Ilya Shapiro has put things:

Today, the Court upheld the equal liberty and dignity of all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation with its ruling in United States v. Windsor. This represents a major victory for gay rights, of course, but more broadly vindicates a robust view of individual liberty as protected by the Constitution. It should be axiomatic that the federal government has to treat all people equally, that it has to accept the several states’ sovereign laws on marriage (and many other subjects), and today there were five votes at the Supreme Court for that proposition.

It is now clear that there was simply no valid reason to uphold DOMA Section 3, no reason to deny the equal protection of more than 1,000 federal laws. As Justice Kennedy wrote for the unified majority, “the principal purpose and the necessary effect of this law are to demean those persons who are in a lawful same-sex marriage.”

This is 
exactly the result we were hoping for.

As for the Perry case, which leaves California’s Proposition 8 invalidated due to a standing issue, I am glad that the decision functionally means that same-sex couples are able to get married in California, but of course, the fight in California is not over. I imagine that opponents of same-sex marriage will try to find another way to invalidate same-sex marriage in California, and I think that the only decisive way to beat back such an effort is for proponents of same-sex marriage to win a ballot fight on the issue at the polls. In fact, in general, it is preferable for same-sex marriage advocates that this issue is fought and won at the polls from now on, and kept out of the courts as much as possible. Only by winning at the polls will same-sex marriage advocates be able to show that their cause–which I support–is supported by the American people in general; any victory in the courts, no matter how decisive, will continue to cause opponents of same-sex marriage to claim that the right is being validated because of the actions of unelected judges.

Oh, and two quotes that I saw on Facebook are worth repeating here. Here is the first: 

Clinton signed DOMA into law. The Koch Brothers favored same-sex marriage before it became fashionable. But it’s not like you’ll update your priors based on that.

The second one makes the same point, and is from law professor Jonathan Adler: 

Nice to see so many friends of mine on the Left cheering a Supreme Court decision striking down a federal law enacted by a broad, bipartisan majority and signed into law by President Clinton. (Oh, and did I mention that this decision was supported enthusiastically by the Koch Brothers and urged by Koch-funded entities?)