This blog, written by Thomas E. Rutledge, focuses primarily on business entity law in Kentucky. Postings on contract law, contractual and statutory construction, and the entity law of other jurisdictions appear as well. There may as well be some random discussions of classical, medieval and renaissance history.
Friday, June 26, 2015
Same-sex Marriage and the Anticipated Supreme Court Ruling
Same-sex Marriage and the Anticipated Supreme
It is anticipated that, either today
or next Monday,
States Supreme Court will hand down its decision as to the constitutionality (or not) of state laws and constitutional provisions defining marriage
as between one man and one woman.Inter alia,
the Court will decide whether forbidding
same-sex marriage violates the Equal Protection clause of the federal
Constitution.It is well beyond me to
predict what the
Court will do and, equally important, the analytic paradigm they will employ. To quote Samuel Meyer, “I never make predictions, especially about the future.”
That said, if the Supreme Court does find there to be a constitutional right
to same-sex marriage, in so doing striking down laws such as that in Kentucky which by constitutional
is between one man and one woman, many persons, particularly
grounds, are going to object. I submit it is important are those with religious
Court is the
underlying constitutionalissues and principles
at play. These differing paradigms
by the late Judge Heyburn in his decision striking down
marriage ban, namelyBourke v. Beshear, 996 F.Supp.2d 542
(W.D. Ky. 2014):
For many, a case involving these issues prompts some sincere
questions and concerns. After all, recognizing same-sex marriage clashes with
many accepted norms in Kentucky—both in society and faith. To the extent courts
clash with what likely remains that majority opinion here, they risk some of
the public’s acceptance. For these reasons, the Court feels a special
obligation to answer some of those concerns.
Many Kentuckians believe in “traditional marriage.” Many
believe what their ministers and scriptures tell them: that a marriage is a
sacrament instituted between God and a man and a woman for society’s benefit.
They may be confused—even angry—when a decision such as this one seems to call
into question that view. These concerns are understandable and deserve an
Our religious beliefs and societal traditions are vital to
the fabric of society. Though each faith, minister, and individual can define
marriage for themselves, at issue here are laws that act outside that protected
sphere. Once the government defines marriage and attaches benefits to that
definition, it must do so constitutionally. It cannot impose a traditional or
faith-based limitation upon a public right without a sufficient justification
for it. Assigning a religious or traditional rationale for a law, does not make
it constitutional when that law discriminates against a class of people without
The beauty of our Constitution is that it accommodates our
individual faith’s definition of marriage while preventing the government from
unlawfully treating us differently. This is hardly surprising since it was
written by people who came to America to find both freedom of religion and
freedom from it.
Many others may wonder about the future of marriages
generally and the right of a religion or an individual church to set its own
rules governing it. For instance, must Kentucky now allow same-sex couples to
marry in this state? Must churches now marry same-sex couples? How will this
decision change or affect my marriage?
First, the Court was not presented with the particular
question whether Kentucky’s ban on same-sex marriage is constitutional.
However, there is no doubt that Windsor and this Court’s analysis suggest a
possible result to that question.
Second, allowing same-sex couples the state recognition,
benefits, and obligations of marriage does not in any way diminish those
enjoyed by opposite-sex married couples. No one has offered any evidence that
recognizing same-sex marriages will harm opposite-sex marriages, individually
or collectively. One’s belief to the contrary, however sincerely held, cannot
alone justify denying a selected group their constitutional rights.
Third, no court can require churches or other religious
institutions to marry same-sex couples or any other couple, for that matter.
This is part of our constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion. That
decision will always be based on religious doctrine.
What this opinion does, however, is make real the promise of
equal protection under the law. It will profoundly affect validly married
same-sex couples’ experience of living in the Commonwealth and elevate their
marriage to an equal status in the eyes of state law.
Many people might assume that the citizens of a state by
their own state constitution can establish the basic principles of governing
their civil life. How can a single judge interfere with that right?
It is true that the citizens have wide latitude to codify
their traditional and moral values into law. In fact, until after the Civil
War, states had almost complete power to do so, unless they encroached on a
specific federal power. See Barron v.
City of Baltimore, 32 U.S. 243, 250–51, 7 Pet. 243, 8 L.Ed. 672 (1833).
However, in 1868 our country adopted the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibited
state governments from infringing upon our individual rights. Over the years,
the Supreme Court has said time and time again that this Amendment makes the
vast majority of the original Bill of Rights and other fundamental rights
applicable to state governments.
In fact, the first justice to articulate this view was one
of Kentucky’s most famous sons, Justice John Marshall Harlan. See Hurtado v. California, 110 U.S. 516,
558, 4 S.Ct. 111, 28 L.Ed. 232 (1884) (Harlan, J., dissenting). He wrote that
the Fourteenth Amendment “added greatly to the dignity and glory of American
citizenship, and to the security of personal liberty, by declaring that ... ‘no
state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or
immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any
person of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor deny to any
person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.’ ” Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537, 555,
16 S.Ct. 1138, 41 L.Ed. 256 (1896) (Harlan, J., dissenting) (quoting U.S.
CONST. amend. XIV).
 So now, the Constitution, including its equal protection
and due process clauses, protects all of us from government action at any
level, whether in the form of an act by a high official, a state employee, a
legislature, or a vote of the people adopting a constitutional amendment. As
Chief *556 Justice John Marshall said, “[i]t is emphatically the province and
duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.” Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 5 U.S. 137, 177, 2 L.Ed. 60
(1803). Initially that decision typically rests with one judge; ultimately,
other judges, including the justices of the Supreme Court, have the final say.
That is the way of our Constitution.
For many others, this decision could raise basic questions
about our Constitution. For instance, are courts creating new rights? Are
judges changing the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment or our Constitution?
Why is all this happening so suddenly?
The answer is that the right to equal protection of the laws
is not new. History has already shown us that, while the Constitution itself
does not change, our understanding of the meaning of its protections and
structure evolves. If this were not so, many practices that we now abhor would
Contrary to how it may seem, there is nothing sudden about
this result. The body of constitutional jurisprudence that serves as its
foundation has evolved gradually over the past forty-seven years. The Supreme
Court took its first step on this journey in 1967 when it decided the landmark
case Loving v. Virginia, which
declared that Virginia’s refusal to marry mixed-race couples violated equal
protection. The Court affirmed that even areas such as marriage, traditionally
reserved to the states, are subject to constitutional scrutiny and “must
respect the constitutional rights of persons.” Windsor, 133 S.Ct. at 2691 (citing Loving ).
Years later, in 1996, Justice Kennedy first emerged as the
Court’s swing vote and leading explicator of these issues in Romer v. Evans. Romer, 517 U.S. at 635,
116 S.Ct. 1620 (holding that Colorado’s constitutional amendment prohibiting
all legislative, executive, or judicial action designed to protect homosexual
persons violated the Equal Protection Clause). He explained that if the “
‘constitutional conception of ‘equal protection of the laws’ means anything, it
must at the very least mean that a bare ... desire to harm a politically
unpopular group cannot constitute a legitimate governmental interest.’ ” Id. at 634–35, 116 S.Ct. 1620 (emphasis
in original) (quoting Dep’t of Agric. v.
Moreno, 413 U.S. 528, 534, 93 S.Ct. 2821, 37 L.Ed.2d 782 (1973)). These two
cases were the virtual roadmaps for the cases to come next.
In 2003, Justice Kennedy, again writing for the majority,
addressed another facet of the same issue in Lawrence v. Texas, explaining that sexual relations are “but one
element in a personal bond that is more enduring” and holding that a Texas
statute criminalizing certain sexual conduct between persons of the same sex
violated the Constitution. 539 U.S. at 567, 123 S.Ct. 2472. Ten years later
came Windsor. And, sometime in the
next few years at least one other Supreme Court opinion will likely complete
this judicial journey.
So, as one can readily see, judicial thinking on this issue
has evolved ever so slowly. That is because courts usually answer only the
questions that come before it. Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes aptly described this
process: “[J]udges do and must legislate, but they can do so only
interstitially; they are confined from molar to molecular motions.” S. Pac. Co. v. Jensen, 244 U.S. 205,
221, 37 S.Ct. 524, 61 L.Ed. 1086 (1917) (Holmes, J., dissenting). In Romer, Lawrence, and finally, Windsor,
the Supreme Court has moved interstitially, as Holmes said it should,
establishing the framework of cases from which district judges now draw wisdom
and inspiration. Each of these small steps has led to this place and this time,
where the right of same-sex spouses to the state-conferred benefits of marriage
is virtually compelled.