Category: LGBT


Stanford Law Review Online: The Ninth Circuit’s Perry Decision and the Constitutional Politics of Marriage Equality

Stanford Law Review

The Stanford Law Review Online has just published an Essay by Yale’s William N. Eskridge Jr. entitled The Ninth Circuit’s Perry Decision and the Constitutional Politics of Marriage Equality. Eskridge provides an accessible summary of the opinion and defends the judgment against detractors who claim it went too far—or didn’t go far enough:

In the blogosphere, Judge Reinhardt’s Perry opinion has come under heavier fire from commentators favoring marriage equality than from those opposed to equality. Some gay-friendly commentators have lamented that the Ninth Circuit did not announce a general right of lesbian and gay couples to marry all over the country and have criticized the court’s narrow reasoning as “dishonest,” analytically “wobbly,” and “disingenuous.” In my view, the court got it right, as a matter of law and as a matter of constitutional politics.

Start with the role of federal courts of appeals in our rule of law system: their role is a limited one, a point these pro-gay commentators have neglected. Such courts (1) are supposed to address the particular factual context presented by the parties, (2) must follow the binding precedent of their own circuit and of the Supreme Court, and (3) ought usually to choose narrow rather than broad grounds for decision. Judge Reinhardt’s Perry opinion is exemplary along all three dimensions. . . .

Should Judge Reinhardt have gone further, to rule that lesbian and gay couples in all states enjoy a “fundamental” right to marry, resulting in strict scrutiny that would be fatal to the exclusion of such couples in the laws of the more than forty states now denying marriage equality? For two decades, I have maintained that the Constitution does assure lesbian and gay couples such a fundamental right. But I am not a court of intermediate appeal. As such a court, the Ninth Circuit panel was right, as a matter of standard legal practice, not to engage this broader argument.

He concludes:

Marriage equality is an idea whose time has come for California, as well as for New York, whose legislature recognized marriage equality last year. But has its time come everywhere in the country? I fear not. The nation’s constitutional culture is much more accepting of lesbian and gay couples today than at the turn of the millennium, but much of the country is still hostile to gay people generally and marriage equality in particular.

Does that mean the Ninth Circuit and the Supreme Court should cower behind a constitutional heckler’s veto? Of course not. But when the hecklers are the bulk of the audience, the constitutional speaker needs to tread more carefully. Courts can help put an issue on the public law agenda, and they can channel discourse into productive directions. They can also help create conditions for falsification of stereotypes and prejudice-driven arguments, such as the canard that gay marriage will undermine “traditional” marriage. But courts cannot create a national consensus on as issue about which “We the People” are not at rest. And nationally, the people are not at rest.

In the United States, as a whole, marriage equality is an idea whose time is coming. And Judge Reinhardt’s decision in Perry v. Brown advances the ball just a little, and not too much.

Read the full article, The Ninth Circuit’s Perry Decision and the Constitutional Politics of Marriage Equality by William N. Eskridge Jr., at the Stanford Law Review Online.


Constitutional Text and the Role of Elites

Joey Fishkin’s post on Jack’s book poses a fascinating and provocative question: “Is this book really about faith in something like the project of the United States — its ideals, its promise, its commitments, its possible future redemption — rather than just the Constitution?”  Joey himself questions whether the dichotomy he draws is a false one, whether American ideals are inseparable from constitutional commitments.  Joey’s comments force us to contemplate whether the constitutional text itself is less important (perhaps not important at all) as compared to the stories of American development and identity that we tell one another.  In this post, I want to take up Joey’s questions and seriously consider how important (if at all) text is to the project of constitutional redemption.

As Joey notes, Jack has much to say about the role of constitutional text: “The text — and the grand statements of principle found in the text — play a crucial role in this constitutional culture.  The text is public.  Anyone can pick up the text, read it, and use it in argument.  Anyone can refer to the principles of due process, or equal protection, the separation of powers, federalism, freedom of expression, or freedom of religion.  A written Constitution that anyone can read and comment on encourages a culture of participation in constitutional argument and a popular sense of ownership in the Constitution[.]” (p. 236, emphasis added)  Jack goes on to argue for the democratizing role of the constitutional text.  The text, which is open and accessible, “authorizes people from all walks of life to claim the right to interpret it.” (p. 237).  Jack connects this reliance on text to his theory of framework originalism; a focus on constitutional text and principle “bridges the gap between laypersons and legal professionals.” (p. 238)

But instead of focusing on “anyone,” let’s focus on elites and situate them as key players in the process of textual meaning and translation.  I want to suggest that Jack’s argument about text as a democratizing and participatory vehicle relies on the importance of textual mediation, largely undertaken by (legal and non-legal) elites.  That is, while we may on rare occasions observe an idealized notion of laypersons reading and invoking the constitutional text, the more common way in which constitutional text is taken up and proclaimed by ordinary citizens relies on a process in which elites — government officials, social movement advocates, cause lawyers, policy elites, cultural leaders — apply constitutional principles (and their textual grounding) to laypersons’ struggles.

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Jack Balkin’s Constitutional Redemption: A Much-Needed Dose of Optimism

I want to thank Danielle Citron for inviting me to participate in this symposium. And I want to thank Jack Balkin for giving me the great honor of commenting on his wonderful book. In Constitutional Redemption, Balkin offers an important, insightful, and useful corrective to the pessimism that pervades a significant amount of legal scholarship on the left. His constitutional optimism suggests the potential and possibilities of constitutional mobilization.

Balkin’s book offers incredible amounts of rich material. He provides a descriptive account of constitutional change, a normative vision of democratic culture, and an interpretative theory aimed at fulfilling the Constitution’s promises. In showing how social movements believe in and agitate for constitutional redemption, Balkin redeems the Constitution for legal scholarship, reminding us that the Constitution serves both as a potent symbol of social change and as a vehicle for continued reform. In this commentary, I first want to focus on why I think Balkin’s descriptive account is accurate by pointing to two essential moves I see him making. I then want to show Balkin’s theory in action in the marriage equality context as a way to translate his analysis into a useful lesson for liberals and progressives.

To my mind, two key moves allow Balkin to see what many others miss and thereby to bridge the often vast divide between constitutional theory and on-the-ground social movement activity. First, Balkin decenters adjudication, and in a sense detaches constitutional claims-making from constitutional decision-making. Of course, Balkin discusses at great length the decisions of the Supreme Court on various significant issues – from race to abortion to labor – and these decisions are crucial to an account of social change. But he analyzes adjudication through the lens of political and movement mobilization, showing the evolution of constitutional principles through the symbiotic relationship among courts, culture, and social movements. (Balkin, p. 63)

By deemphasizing adjudication, Balkin suggests that the most significant effects of constitutional claims emerge from the claims-making process itself. The claim is not merely instrumental – to convince a judge to grant some right or benefit to the plaintiff. Rather, the claim may be transformative and may articulate a vision that holds power regardless of judicial validation. In fact, when the judge validates the plaintiff’s claim, it is often because that claim has already affected the culture more generally.

Balkin’s second key move, which follows from the first, is his contextualization of courts within a broader political and cultural world. (Balkin, pp. 97-98) For Balkin, constitutional claims-making is political and moral claims-making. (Balkin, p. 118) Through this lens, courts cannot (and generally do not) go it alone. Instead, courts participate in an ongoing dialogue with other social change agents, including social movements and political actors.

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Thank you and Goodnight (and Some Thoughts on Anti-Gay Discrimination in Schools)

It has been an honor and a pleasure to be a small part of the Co-Op community these past two months. I learned a lot and had fun doing it! I’d like to thank everyone for their indulgence and comments, with special thanks to Danielle for inviting me in the first place.

For my final post, I would like to follow up on what is going on the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota.

In the mid-1990s, the District adopted a health curriculum policy prohibiting teachers from teaching that homosexuality is “normal” or a “valid lifestyle.” According to the anti-gay organization that lobbied the District to adopt that rule, “[t]he homosexual lifestyle does not reflect the community standards of District #11, nor is it regarded as a norm in society.” That policy was extended beyond the health curriculum in 2009, when the District adopted a so-called “no promo homo” rule and a neutrality policy that stated that “[t]eaching about sexual orientation is not a part of the District adopted curriculum; rather, such matters are best addressed within individual family homes, churches, or community organizations. Anoka-Hennepin staff, in the course of their professional duties, shall remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation including but not limited to student led discussions.”

In a Complaint from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) representing several students, the SPLC notes that the policies act “as a gag policy that prevents school officials from complying with their legal obligations to keep safe students like Plaintiffs who are perceived as LGBT or gender non-conforming. This gag policy requires District officials to enforce anti-harassment policies in the case of anti-LGBT bullying differently from other types of bullying. Teachers have understood the [policy] as inhibiting them from aggressively responding to anti-gay harassment, inside or outside the classroom. The gag policy also prohibits school staff from countering anti-gay stereotypes or presenting basic factual information about LGBT people, even when necessary to address anti-gay hostility within the student body. For example, pursuant to District guidance, the [policy] prohibits staff from even mentioning the fact that it is the position of the American Psychological Association that being gay is not a choice— a position that is the consensus of all major accredited and professional mental health organizations. The [policy] severely limits or outright bars any discussion by school officials of issues related to LGBT people in or out of the classroom, a limitation
that is not placed on any other category of persons.”

The SPLC raises Equal Protection, Title IX and Minnesota Human Rights Act arguments. The full Complaint is available here.

There are also free speech arguments. Do you think SPLC should have emphasized the ways in which Anoka-Hennepin’s policies infringe on the free speech rights of teachers?

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Some Thoughts on The FAIR Education Act

My apologies to the Co-Op community for being incognito the previous week. There’s the wonderful medicine called Augmenten that is finally getting me well!

The quaint Sacramento Bee published an Op-Ed of mine today. It urges California Governor Jerry Brown to sign SB 48: The FAIR Education Act, that asks California school districts to find a way to include references to the contributions of gay Americans in their history or social studies curricula. I see this as an essential tool in combating anti-gay hate and bullying in schools.

Maybe it was a mistake to include my email address at the bottom of the Op-Ed (though that is the Bee’s, and most paper’s, custom) because I’ve already gotten quite a few emails using the word “Satan,” “destroying America,” “sodomy,” “rectum,” “bending over backward” and even a few veiled threats from one person who insisted on reminding me that he is a “real Christian.”

Any time someone mentions the word “gay,” there always seems to be a small, vocal and virulent segment of the population that cannot help but think of sodomy and how “gross and unnatural” they think it is. Historically, it is common for hateful societies to identify and exaggerate physical or personal features of those groups they wish to keep down. In Germany, Hitler published photographs of Jews that over-emphasized hooked noses; in the Jim Crow South, it was terribly and disturbingly common to equate African Americans with monkeys.

But that obvious and outward hate only worked because it tapped into long held, deeply rooted beliefs about Jews and African Americans. Hooked noses symbolized the Jews-as-sinister stereotype for Germans; monkeys reminded Southern whites that African Americans were less than human. Images conjured up by words like “rectum” and “bending over backward” comport with homophobic stereotypes of gay men as sex-crazed, obsessed with pleasure and incapable of love, only lust.

The only way to fight against these stereotypes is to teach reality: that gay people can love each other, that gay lives are no different than straight lives and that gay people have been positive forces in American history. So-called “real Christians” (methinks he doth protest too much!) may be unreachable, but that is because their religious leaders feed into the stereotypes and teach them. To suggest that forces of tolerance and acceptance are not allowed to teach the truth to combat these devastating stereotypes is to accept the legitimacy of hate, homophobia and discrimination.


Same-Sex Couples and Divorce

Later this month, New York will join six other jurisdictions in permitting same-sex couples to marry. The other six jurisdictions are Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and the District of Columbia. When the marriages begin, same-sex couples from all over the United States will be able to marryin New York, because New York (like the other jurisdictions listed above) has no residency requirement for marriage.

As a recent article in the NYTimes describes, however, many of the estimated 80,000 married same-sex couples are finding it difficult to divorce if and when the need arises. As I explain in forthcoming article in the Boston University Law Review, this difficulty is “the result of the confluence of two factors.” First, many same-sex couples are unable to get divorced in their home states because they live in states with statutory and/or constitutional provisions stating that the jurisdiction will not recognize marriages between two people of the same sex. Second, they may be unable to divorce somewhere other than their home state because “it is widely understood that for a court to have the power to grant a divorce, one of the spouses must be domiciled in the forum[.]”

Being unable to get divorced is not simply a theoretical problem. During the time in which the parties remain married (despite their efforts to the contrary), the parties continue to accrue rights and responsibilities vis-à-vis each other. They may, for example, continue to accrue rights to marital property and obligations for debt incurred during the continued relationship.

My Article, Modernizing Divorce Jurisdiction: Same-Sex Couples and Minimum Contacts, considers why this anomalous jurisdictional rule arose in the first instance, why it has persisted over time, and whether it can be squared with contemporary principles of personal jurisdiction. Previously, divorce jurisdiction and the domicile rule were subjects of significant interest to the courts and to legal scholars. Likely to the surprise of many today, the Supreme Court decided a number of cases involving these issues in the middle of the last century. More recently, however, (with a few notable exceptions) there has been little contemporary judicial or scholarly engagement with the issue. Instead, the domicile rule is generally accepted today as an example of family law exceptionalism.

In my piece, I resist the myth of family law exceptionalism by critically considering whether the domicile rule can be reconciled with general principles of state court jurisdiction. Ultimately, as others including Rhonda Wasserman have done, I argue that the domicile rule should be abandoned. Instead, actions to terminate a marriage should be governed by the usual rules of personal jurisdiction. While this change alone would help many of the “wedlocked” same-sex couples (to borrow an apt phrase from Mary Pat Byrn and Morgan Holcomb), some may still be stranded. Accordingly, I conclude the Article by offering a set of normative proposals to ensure that all spouses have at least one forum in which to divorce.


Be Proud, Not Frustrated

June was Gay Pride month, and it was a particularly special Pride for me, for New York and all gay people. It was great for me, of course, because I had the honor of blogging at Co-Op (and I’m doubly honored to continue into July!). It was really great for me, for New York and for many others when the Empire State legalized gay marriage hours before gays from all over the world were planning on taking to the streets anyway to celebrate community, equality and the exceptionalism of the gay culture. So, the celebration started a bit earlier.

In fact, June 2011 capped a remarkable few years for the gay rights movement. There was Iowa and Washington, DC on the marriage front. President Obama and the Democratic Congress gave us hate crime legislation and, more importantly, the repeal of the odious “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on openly gay service in the military. And, the President did not stop there: he extended benefits to gay partners, enforced hospital visitation rights for any hospital receiving Medicaid, and in perhaps his most lasting contribution to equal rights for gay Americans, he declared that state action discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation deserved heightened scrutiny and, therefore, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional.

So, why are some of my gay friends so frustrated with the President?

Why do they get upset that he has not “evolve[d] already” toward support for same-sex marriage? Why do some see him “no different than the Republicans when it comes to gay rights”? Are they just demanding? Ungrateful? Impatient, petulant children?

I certainly know my share of petulant children, but I don’t think that’s it. I would like to suggest that some gays are frustrated because they don’t understand President Obama’s unique (and refreshing) form a progressivism.

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UCLA Law Review Vol. 58, Issue 5 (June 2011)

Volume 58, Issue 5 (June 2011)


Melville B. Nimmer Memorial Lecture: What Is a Copyrighted Work? Why Does It Matter? Paul Goldstein 1175
Equal Opportunity for Arbitration Hiro N. Aragaki 1189
Asymmetrical Jurisdiction Matthew I. Hall 1257


Multiracial Work: Handing Over the Discretionary Judicial Tool of Multiracialism Scot Rives 1303
Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, and Your Queer: The Need and Potential for Advocacy for LGBTQ Immigrant Detainees CT Turney 1343



For those so inclined/interested/bemused/not yet tired of hearing about it…

The New York State Assembly has just introduced a series of amendments to the same-sex marriage bill. They are available here. The amendments were drafted during three-way consultations with Governor Cuomo (and his team), a select group of NY State Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who seems like he has been Assembly speaker since the Taft Administration, is cool with the amendments. It will pass the Assembly, and one would imagine the amendments would not be introduced in the Assembly were they not guaranteed to pass in the Senate.

One point of politics and one point of analysis. First, to sausage-making. State Senator Ball, a Republican from somewhere other than New York City, came out against the bill before the amendments were finalized. His statement is irking some in the gay blogosphere:

Knowing that marriage equality was likely to pass, I thought it important to force the issue of religious protections. Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the distinct opportunity of listening to literally thousands of residents, on both sides of this issue, by holding an undecided stance. I thought it was important to listen to all of my constituents and hold an undecided position until the actual bill language was written and everyone’s voice had been heard. Now that the final text is public, I am proud that I have secured some strong protections for religious institutions and basic protections for religious organizations. The bill still lacks many of the basic religious protections I thought were vital, and for this reason, and as I did in the Assembly, I will be voting ‘no.’”

Some have read that statement to mean that Senator Ball “took,” or, rather feigned, “an undecided stance” in order to push through a number of religious exemptions. Their evidence is not just his language — saying you took an undecided position is not the same as saying you were actually undecided — but also his public decision to vote note before the amendments came out. So, some argue, he faked his way through, knowing he was going to jump ship anyway. That is the argument, at least. I prefer to be a little more optimistic about life (what’s that old saying? the optimist and the pessimist are born and die on the same day, but the optimist lives better?), but what do you think?

As for the amendments themselves, the sticking point has been so-called religious exemptions to the marriage law. I spoke to Brian Ellner (a pro-gay marriage lobbyist who had been working with the drafters and their staffs) and said that religious exemptions are fine — why would I want a clergyman who dislikes gay people to marry me? — but if the exemptions allowed, say, a Jesuit hospital to deny visitation rights to a same-sex married spouse, I would object.

The amendments first clause specifically refers to objections to “the solemnization or celebration of a marriage,” though an admittedly broad reading of the word “celebration” could include any type of “recognition” of the marriage. I hardly think that is a valid interpretation, though.

The second amendment is a bit trickier. It reads: “Nothing in this Article shall limit or diminish the right … of any religious … institution or organization,” or a charitable organization run in connection with a religious organization, “to limit employment or sales or rental of housing … or admission to or give preference to persons of the same religion … or from taking such action as is calculated by such organization to promote the religious principles for which it is established or maintained.”

This appears to be what I was worried about. In New England and in the Mid-Atlantic states (as, I am sure, elsewhere), we have lots of hospitals connected to religious orders (I was born in one!), which could “tak[e] such action” to promote their religious principles by denying spousal visitation rights to legally married same-sex spouses. On the other hand, hospitals with emergency rooms still have to take patients as they come; but it seems that a hospital that treats a gay man, but refuses to let his spouse sit by his death bed, would not be in violation of any law. Still, President Obama has issued regulations that require any hospital receiving federal funds to, among other things, allow for visitation of same-sex partners. Thoughts?

Finally, there is severability. One of the amendments requires that the law remain unseverable, so if one part is found to be unconstitutional, the whole law goes down as unconstitutional. That clause is becoming increasingly common in New York State laws, but I wonder if it could pose difficult questions down the road. What if a hospital connected to a religious order does indeed deny visitation. One reading the gay marriage bill would suggest that hospital could do so; but, then it would run afoul of President Obama’s hospital visitation rule and, say, Article 28 – § 2805-Q of the New York Public Health Law that requires visitation at “any” hospital. How would this play out? Would the severability clause — which, a friend reminded me, is not always sacroscant (United States v. Jackson, 390 U.S. 570 (1968) (punishment portion of federal kidnapping statute was severable despite nonseverability clause)) — become a problem for gay marriage?

In the end, if these amendments mean I can marry the man I love in my beloved home state, then I embrace them. I’m about to draft a similar post for the gay community over at Towleroad. I wonder what my commenters will think.


The Virtue of Marriage

I have been remiss in many of my posts, talking sometimes about theory and then getting caught up in the same-sex marriage debate in New York, that I forgot that one of Co-Op’s great assets is close analysis of case law. The splendid Turner symposium is only one example of that. So, I thought I would combine an important case with current events.

Yesterday, I had the wonderful opportunity to participate on a conference call with a few pro-gay marriage advocates in Albany and the staffs of some senators. This was probably more a who-you-know, rather than what-you-know opportunity because there are far more experienced minds than mine working hard on same-sex marriage. I casually mentioned that I don’t think referring to my desire to join the institution of marriage as an issue of “rights” is all that persuasive to folks whose interpretations of religious texts make them wary or concerned for the rights of other religious people and institutions. After all, I said, by saying our rights should win out, we are not so subtly minimizing their rights, which have to be regarded as at least competing.

Speaking about marriage outside the rhetoric or rights — “marriage equality”, “we all have the right to marry the one we love” are just two of the common phrases, signs and lines you see at pro-gay marriage rallies — is a bit of a heresy in the gay community. It’s a heresy that I embrace and am starting to write about in my scholarship. It’s a heresy because freedom of choice and non-discrimination are not what the marriage debate is about; those concepts only take us so far. Rather, it’s about whether my union is worthy of social recognition. To see this idea, we need look no further than Massachusetts’s landmark same-sex marriage decision, Goodridge v. Department of Public Health (but we do have to go after the jump!).

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