Prop 8, Defense of Marriage Act brought before the court
After two days of arguments, it's in the hands of the Supreme Court now.
The atmosphere at the U.S. Supreme Court was tense March 26 as justices hammered attorneys with tough questions on the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 — with a particular emphasis on inquiries about standing.
The Prop 8 case was the first of two back-toback Supreme Court hearings that could shape marriage equality in the country for years to come. GA Voice went to press before the March 27 hearing on the Defense of Marriage Act, so please visit www.thegavoice.com for complete coverage.
Within moments of the opening of the oral arguments in the Prop 8 case, known as Hollingsworth v. Perry, justices interrupted both Charles Cooper, who is arguing in favor of Prop 8, and Ted Olson, who is arguing against it on behalf of two plaintiff gay couples, with questions about standing.
The California Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2008, but the November 2008 ballot measure known as Prop 8 amended the state constitution to halt gay couples marrying.
Anti-gay groups, such as ProtectMarriage. com, are defending Prop 8 in court because California officials — Gov. Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris — have elected not to do so. Whether these groups have standing to defend the law is a question posed by the court.
Olson, a former U.S. solicitor general under President George W. Bush, disputed the notion that anti-gay groups have standing in the Prop 8 case because they are not elected officials.
“Because you’re not an officer of the State of California, you don’t have a fiduciary duty to the State of California, you’re not bound by the ethical standards of an officer of the State of California to represent the State of California, you could have conflicts of interest,” Olson said. “And as I said, you could be incurring enormous legal fees on behalf of the state when the state hasn’t decided to go that route.”
The issue of standing is seen as crucial because if the court determines that anti-gay groups don’t have standing to defend Prop 8, the ruling of U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker would remain in place and marriage rights for same-sex couples would likely be restored in California.
Justices known for being conservative hinted at the way they may rule in the case. Alito, appointed by former President George W. Bush, cautioned against a ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, which he said is “newer than cell phones and the Internet.”
“There isn’t a lot of data about its effect,” Alito said. “It may turn out to be a good thing. It may turn out not to be a good thing.”
Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, an appointee of former President Reagan who’s considered a swing vote, acknowledged that sociological information on the issue is new, but said children who are currently living with same-sex parents are suffering “legal injury” as a result of Prop 8.
“There is an immediate legal injury or legal — what could be a legal injury, and that’s the voice of these children,” Kennedy said. “There are some 40,000 children in California … that live with same-sex parents, and they want their parents to have full recognition and full status.”
Chief Justice John Roberts, another Bush appointee, made comments in an exchange with Olson suggesting he doesn’t believe gay couples have a right to marry.
“I’m not sure that it’s right to view this as excluding a particular group,” Roberts said. “When the institution of marriage developed historically, people didn’t get around and say let’s have this institution, but let’s keep out homosexuals. The institution developed to serve purposes that, by their nature, didn’t include homosexual couples.”
When Olson pointed out that gay couples had the right to marry before Prop 8 was passed, Roberts responded by saying that it was only 140 days after the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage.
Roberts then asked Olson whether it’s more reasonable to view the situation as the state court making a change to an institution that’s “been around since time immemorial.”
“The California Supreme Court, like this Supreme Court, decides what the law is,” Olson replied. “The California Supreme Court decided that the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of that California Constitution did not permit excluding gays and lesbians from the right to get married.”
A decision in the case is expected by the end of June.
Supporters of gay marriage rallied outside of the Supreme Court March 26. (Photo by Michael Patrick Key / Washington Blade)