US Supreme Court Declines to Hear Same-Sex Marriage Cases

On Monday, October 6, 2014, the United States Supreme Court declined to decide whether states have the right to ban gay marriage. The court rejected appeals that prohibited gay marriage, without comment, leaving intact the lower-court rulings striking down these bans. This move allowed gay men and women the right to get married in five additional states: Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin, which brings the total to 24 states that now permit gay marriage.

The shift towards the courts’ approval of gay marriage began in June of 2013 when the Supreme Court justices decided Windsor v. United States. The justices in Windsor voted 5-4 to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as between one man and one woman for the purpose of federal government benefits. The shift in public opinion to supporting gay marriage is also relatively recent, with Massachusetts being the first state to allow gay marriage in 2004.

Some proponents of gay marriage continue to fight, arguing that the delay in affirming the freedom to marry nationwide prolongs the patchwork of state-to-state discrimination and continues the harms and indignity that the denial of marriage still inflicts on too many couples in too many places. Opponents of gay marriage also continue to fight, arguing that the people should decide this issue, not the courts. Many people on both sides of the issue are ready for the Supreme Court to make a final decision, arguing that the justices have an obligation to settle an issue of such national importance and not abdicate that responsibility to the lower court judges.

On the other hand, the denial in itself makes a statement that proponents are beginning to embrace. Same-sex marriage will soon be legal in six more states based on regional federal appellate court rulings: Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

The Supreme Court did not explain why it was not taking up this controversial issue, but it will most likely not rule on the matter anytime soon. Some states are still litigating the issue, while others have accepted the rulings applicable to them and are no longer defending same-sex marriage bans.

By: Molly McClure, Reference Assistant

Pride Month 2014: Overview of Current Legal Issues

June-LGBT-Month

As LGBT Pride Month 2014 draws to a close, the focus is on the status of current legal issues involving the LGBT community:

  • Marriage Equality – The Movement Advancement Project (MAP) provides detailed information on marriage and relationship recognition laws by state. In addition, Lambda Legal provides an overview of the states currently permitting same-sex marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships, as well as summaries of the pending court cases in the remaining states. “All states that do not currently allow same-sex couples to marry currently have pending lawsuits challenging that ban, or the refusal of the state to recognize marriages same-sex couples entered outside the jurisdiction, or both.” (06/23/2014, http://www.lambdalegal.org/pending-marriage-equality-cases). “[T]here currently are 84 pending lawsuits (57 in federal court – 16 of which are on appeal; and 27 in state courts – 9 of which are on appeal and 22 of which raise federal claims), involving how the marriage laws of 33 states and Puerto Rico apply to same-sex couples.” (Id.). The relevant Oklahoma case is Bishop v. Smith, which is currently before the 10th Circuit; oral argument was held on 4/17/14, and a decision is pending. (http:/www.freedomtomarry.org/litigation/entry/oklahoma). Yesterday, the 10th Circuit upheld the district court ruling striking down Utah’s constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage. (https://www.ca10.uscourts.gov/opinions/13/13-4178.pdf).
  • Federal Implementation of Windsor – One year ago today, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its historic ruling in United States v. Windsor, holding that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional. Section 3 “had prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex married couples as married for federal purposes” (Memo from Attorney General Eric Holder to President Obama, 6/20/2014, at http://www.justice.gov/iso/opa/resources/9722014620103930904785.pdf). Since the Windsor ruling, the administration has opened up many federal benefits to same-sex married couples, including the following: filing joint federal tax returns; military service benefits; immigration sponsorship; federal employee spousal benefits; spousal coverage for health insurance; and many others. (Id.) In addition, there are current proposals to “permit same-sex couples to access leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) regardless of state of residence” and “to extend family leave to all federal employees who are married to a same-sex spouse.” (HRC Blog, Under Obama, Windsor Implementation Constitutes the Largest Conferral of LGBT Rights in History, 6/20/2014, at http://www.hrc.org/blog/entry/under-obama-windsor-implementation-constitutes-the-largest-conferral-of-lgb).
  • Hate Crimes/Anti-bullying – In 2009, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 was codified at 18 U.S.C. § 249. (http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/crm/matthewshepard.php). This act “provides funding and technical assistance to state, local, and tribal jurisdictions to help them to more effectively investigate and prosecute hate crimes” and it created “a new federal criminal law which criminalizes willfully causing bodily injury (or attempting to do so with fire, firearm, or other dangerous weapon) when: (1) the crime was committed because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin of any person or (2) the crime was committed because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of any person and the crime affected interstate or foreign commerce or occurred within federal special maritime and territorial jurisdiction.” (http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/crm/matthewshepard.php). Overviews of state laws related to hate crimes and anti-bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity can be found on MAP’s website.

 

LGBT Pride Month & Equality Maps

June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month (LGBT Pride Month) in remembrance of the 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan, an acknowledged “tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States” (http://www.loc.gov/lgbt/about.html). This movement has made great strides towards non-discriminatory laws and practices since 1969, most recently with the numerous federal court rulings in support of same-sex marriage recognition. But marriage isn’t the only equality issue facing the LGBT community – employment and school discrimination, hate crimes, and recognition of parent-child relationships are just a few others. For more details on these issues and others, including “Equality Maps” of state laws, see the Movement Advancement Project (MAP) at http://www.lgbtmap.org/. Also, explore the LGBT Pride Month display in the Gold Star first floor lobby for resources available at the law library.

LGBT Pride Month 2014