Tagged: same sex marriage

1

Is Marriage Equality A Zero-Sum Game?

Katherine Franke’s Wedlocked offers a provocative and cautionary tale about marriage.  Drawing on the decidedly mixed experiences of African-Americans who gained the right to marry following the Civil War, Franke argues that, for gays and lesbians, pursuing freedom and equality through marriage is risky business. Access to marriage, Franke suggests, is likely to be a zero sum game, and achieving it may do more harm than good — both for the lesbians and gay men who embrace it and for those it leaves behind.

The historical chapters of Franke’s book are original and compelling. She shows how the intertwining of marriage and emancipation unleashed a racist backlash during and after the Civil War – a backlash that increased the vulnerability of African American women and children, and conscripted many women into gendered roles that they had little interest in inhabiting.  Franke also shows how the right to marry facilitated coercive state intervention in the intimate lives of the newly emancipated citizens  through aggressive enforcement of bigamy, fornication and adultery laws.  As Franke explains: “Once married, many freed people learned the hard way that marriage and rules and that breaking those rules could be very costly, if not deadly.”  That these interventions were often initiated by other members of the African-American community only exacerbated their negative impact.  Franke’s rich historical analysis demonstrates convincingly that, for African-Americans after the Civil War, the right to marry was a Faustian bargain.

Franke’s efforts to apply this history to the contemporary marriage equality movement are somewhat less convincing. To begin with, those efforts are complicated by the significant and rapid developments that took place during the time it took to write the book. To her credit, Franke acknowledges that the lesson she initially intended to draw – that the success of the marriage equality movement would unleash a backlash of homophobia similar to the post-Civil War backlash against African-Americans — has not come to pass.  Instead, the views of the public on same-sex marriage — like the views of President Obama – have evolved.  The Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision (handed down after the publication of Franke’s book) both reflects and is likely to accelerate this evolution.

So Franke focuses on several other lessons. First, she argues that marriage may have negative consequences for the gay and lesbian couples who opt into it. Second, she claims that marriage may have negative consequences for those members of the gay and lesbian community who choose not to marry and, more generally, for gay identity as a whole.  Third, Franke suggests that the success of the marriage equality movement may have come at the expense of other subordinated groups, particularly African-Americans.  Although Franke has interesting things to say about all three claims, I find her second and third lessons more compelling than her first.

Franke’s first claim is that marriage harbors disadvantages for the same sex couples who succumb to its lure. She argues that marriage provides a gendered script that fits poorly with the realities of same-sex relationships. In particular, she claims that the financial sharing rules that govern the formation and, more importantly, the dissolution of marital relationships are at odds with the expectations of many gay couples, and that efforts by gay spouses to “opt out” of these sharing rules may have negative consequences for women in more traditional, heterosexual marriages.

As a family law professor, I find these concerns unconvincing for several reasons. For one thing, they appear to be based on an outdated understanding of the laws that govern marriage and divorce.  Under the current no-fault divorce regime, the sharing obligations that accompany the dissolution of a marriage are quite thin.  Post-divorce financial sharing (via alimony or spousal support) is the exception, rather than the rule, and long-term support is extremely rare.  And while divorce statutes in almost all states provide for the equitable (but not necessarily equal) distribution of marital property, this generally applies only to property acquired during the marriage and it does not include professional degrees or other human capital assets.  As a result, most divorcing couples have little property to divide.  The most robust family sharing rules today are those that require parents to support their children financially, and those obligations are no longer tied to marriage in any meaningful way.

Perhaps more important, the sharing obligations that are tied to marriage operate as default rules, and couples are generally free to contract around them, either at the time they enter into marriage or at the time a marriage ends. Franke is correct to point out that some states require such opt-out agreements to be in writing (as is true for other types of important contracts), but Franke mischaracterizes the current legal regime when she suggests that gaining marriage rights entails “surrendering the breakup of your relationship to the governance of rules set by the state rather than the ad hoc improvisation that same-sex couples used before they were able to marry.”  Both same-sex and opposite-sex couples are free to negotiate and to improvise, whether or not they decide to marry. To be sure, these negotiations take place in the “shadow” of the law’s default rules.  And what marriage does is switch the default position – from the absence of any financial sharing unless a couple specifically opts to share, to some time-limited sharing, unless a couple expressly agrees otherwise.  To this extent, marriage may improve the bargaining position of a financially dependent spouse at the time a relationships ends, but that is not the same thing as being tied to a gendered script or surrendering the terms of your break-up to the state.

I am similarly unconvinced by Franke’s suggestion that allowing gay men and lesbians to contract out of the default rules of equitable distribution and support “would threaten to undo decades of feminist reform of the law of marriage.” While some feminists have pushed for greater sharing of the financial gains and losses associated with marriage, these efforts have not fundamentally altered the “clean break” philosophy of modern divorce law, and they have generally been accompanied by a healthy respect for the role of voluntary agreements.  Moreover, this argument sounds disturbing similar to claims made by opponents of same-sex marriage that allowing gay couples to marry would somehow undermine their own, heterosexual unions.  In both contexts, the argument seems misplaced.

More convincing is Franke’s second argument that the availability of marriage will disadvantage gay men and lesbians who choose other forms of intimate relationships. As she puts it:  “Gaining the right to marry risks bringing with it the expectation that all in the community conform to traditional notions of coupling, and can have the unintended consequence of making the lives of lesbian and gay people who aren’t in traditional relationships more precarious, not less.”  This is an important concern, and while Franke is not the first to raise it, her historical analysis adds a powerful dimension to the argument.  For example, she shows how, in the aftermath of the Civil War, the newly-won right to marry morphed into a duty to do so, and African Americans who remained in less formal, or more fluid intimate relationships often paid a steep price. Franke suggests a disturbing parallel in recent, post-marriage equality efforts by some jurisdictions to automatically convert existing domestic partnerships into marriages and by some employers to eliminate or limit to married couples benefits they previously extended to non-marital partners.

Franke also suggests that gaining marriage rights may threaten the gay community’s own history and identity. In particular, she claims that marriage threatens “to pull the sex out of homosexuality” and to drive a wedge between acceptable and unacceptable gay lifestyles.  Marriage, she fears, risks shifting “a badge of inferiority from decent same-sex couples – many of whom are portrayed in the media and in legal papers as wanting dignity for themselves and their children that only marriage can confer – to indecent others whose intimate attachments don’t or won’t march politely down the aisle.”  Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in Obergefell — which contrasts the “dignity” and “integrity” of marriage with the “loneliness” of other family forms — certainly validates these concerns.

Even more provocatively, Franke suggests that the success of the marriage equality movement may have come at the expense of other stigmatized groups, particularly African Americans. She claims that homosexuality in general and the marriage equality movement in particular “enjoy a kind of racial privilege” that has contributed to its success.  “For better or for worse, in some circumstances winning marriage equality has been a zero sum game that has entailed shifting the stigma same-sex couples have endured to other already stigmatized groups, particularly poor African American women and their families.”  These claims are troubling and worth taking seriously. To some extent, they parallel the critique leveled by feminists of color who pointed out that efforts by privileged (white) women to achieve equality in the professional and corporate sphere often depended on the less visible and poorly compensated domestic work of poor women of color.

But access to marriage need not be a zero sum game, and Justice Kennedy does not speak for all supporters of marriage equality. Indeed, as Franke suggests in the Appendix that she captions  “A Progressive Call To Action for Married Queers,” there is much that both gay and straight supporters of marriage equality can do to ensure that marriage remains a right, rather than a duty, and that it augments, rather than displaces, other forms of intimate relationships.  Supporters can resist the repeal of domestic partner benefits programs; they can avoid arguments that disparage non-marital families and non-reproductive sexual activity; and they can link strategies to fight homophobia to other causes such as anti-racist organizing or defending reproductive rights.  Such efforts are made easier by constitutional and family law doctrines that limit the state’s ability to regulate intimate conduct and that protect a far broader range of family and relationship choices than was the case a century (or even a generation) ago. These developments suggest that opening marriage to same-sex couples may have positive, as well as negative externalities, and that both gay and straight progressives have the opportunity (and perhaps the obligation) to help bring about those positive externalities.  In this respect Wedlocked may be as much a call to action as it is a cautionary tale.

3

Queering the Family in an Age of Marriage Equality

It was a pleasure to read Katherine Professor Franke’s provocative book, Wedlocked, and an even greater pleasure to be able to engage in this on-line discussion about Professor Professor Franke’s long simmering work. As a lesbian of African descent raising bi-racial children with a Latina co-parent, I came to this book with personal and professional relationships to many of the topics about which Professor Franke writes so eloquently. I left the experience of reading her book with numerous thoughts and questions to which I cannot do justice in a blog post. So, recognizing that I cannot do it all, I’ll use my space to reflect on one piece of Professor Franke’s narrative that resonated strongly with me, which is contemplating how families with children created by lgbt people do or do not radically, or even modestly in some cases, actually queer the idea of family. By this I mean, as I’ll explain in more detail below, just as is true in the context of marriage, being queer and creating a family does not always mean that you have queered the family. In that case, then, I wonder what it means to queer the family in our modern context and, perhaps more importantly, what we gain or lose by couching the narrative of change in the idea of queerness rather than using other language to describe and understand the end of the hegemony of the nuclear family.

My scholarly work exists at the intersection of family law, bioethics, and reproductive justice, with a particular focus on assisted reproduction and how non-coital forms of baby creation can, but don’t always, challenge traditional notions of family and belonging. Consequently, one piece of Professor Franke’s book that deeply resonated with me was her discussion of the ways in which same sex couples engage in a process of queering the family by virtue of how they create families with children. Professor Franke gives 3 such examples, one involving a very open open adoption of an infant by two African-American lesbians who, it appears, have been significantly integrated into the birth family of their child; one involving two white gay men who hired a gestational surrogate with whom they continue to have contact long after their child’s birth (In the interest of full disclosure, like Professor Franke, I am friends with the two men about whom she writes and am thrilled about the family that they were able to create); and another involving a male couple and a female couple who created biological children together and raised those children with the lesbians as primary parents and the men as loved family figures who are not social parents.

Professor Franke offers up these stories to illustrate how gay people, like African Americans (and, of course, these groups are not mutually exclusive), have played with, rejected, and, in some cases, transformed the traditional/nuclear family. She explains, “These three stories are typical of the ‘queerness’ of many families being formed by lesbians and gay men who want children in their lives.” I’m unsure what to make of the quotation marks that she uses around the word queerness, but it is the use of that word that is especially striking to me. I am happy to praise and celebrate the ways in which these families got created with care and deliberation. I also think, though, that it’s critical to recognize the ways in which they might not be all that queer depending on how that word is being deployed. If queer simply means not the nuclear family model of one man, one woman, and their biological children living in a single household, then a huge number of families are queer in this country, which starts to make them seem more mainstream even if not traditional. If we mean something more specific by using the term queer, perhaps requiring parents who identify as lgbt, then all of the families that Professor Franke describes surely qualify, but at that point the designation of queer sweeps in huge numbers of families that are almost identical to traditional family structures save for sex or gender identity. So, what makes two white gay men with financial privilege hiring a surrogate to carry a child for them and maintaining a relationship with that surrogate radically different from a white man and white woman (married or in a serious long-term relationship) making the same decisions? And when I think of the lesbians who are clearly committed to creating a family structure for their daughter that allows her to maintain close ties to her birth mother and her extended family of origin, I read that story not as a queer story per se, or certainly not only a queer story, but as an example of the kinds of extended networks of kin, caring, and community that have so long been a deep part of African American familial traditions extending to those families created by same-sex couples. The story, then, is best told as an intersectional one about how multiple identities shape the families that we create.

That I’ve opted to focus on what perhaps appears to be such a small part of Professor Franke’s broad and exciting narrative may seem out of place or out of touch, but I am fascinated by this question of how we understand what it means to dismantle dominant family structures and conquer familial hierarchies. I share Professor Franke’s concerns about how some of the legal strategies used in marriage equality litigation may actually have damaged those who create what I tend to describe in my work as outsider or marginalized families, rather than queer families. For me, the important dividing line in how families exist in our world is the distinction between families that can be formed by law and protected by law versus those that are treated as anomalous, or inferior, or even thought to be dangerous by some conservative politicians and policymakers. These outsider families are not necessarily radically upending notions of family and thus may not fall neatly into how some think about what it means to queer family. In fact, they may be much more closely aligned with traditional notions of family in many ways, but they are not granted legal legitimacy because they do not wholly track what has long been deemed the norm.

I am deeply mindful of the critical ways in which outsider families can create impacts beyond the circumstances of the individual family members such as in Moore v. City of East Cleveland in which the Supreme Court struck down a statute that excluded certain non-nuclear family units from living together in the City of East Cleveland (in that case, the offending family consisted of a grandmother, her son, and two grandsons) or consider how same sex couples are pushing some family courts and state legislatures to acknowledge more than a two parent dyad for any one child either through legislation or through case law. These are changes that matter and that make it harder to claim that there is one family structure that rules above all others. But, as we push the boundaries of family, as Professor Franke warns in the context of her history of marriage for freed slaves and for lgbt people in our present world, we should be careful what we wish for. We do not want to reinforce familial hierarchies by forcing people into specific family arrangements in order to warrant recognition (2 parents only), nor do we want to fetishize outsider families such that those who do not fit that model are denigrated for their choices (i.e., the adoptive parents who choose a closed adoption or the birth mother who opts for such an adoption thus perhaps not being queer enough in their choices). In thinking about the ways in which reproductive justice calls for us to respect the right to have a child, not have a child, or parent that child in a safe and healthy environment, the upshot for me is that the reproductive justice paradigm does not demand that outsider families conform to some particular form in order to help dismantle hierarchy. The end goal, or at least one end goal, is to recognize that most orthodoxy about how people choose to wrap themselves in the webs of dependence and intertwinement that family connotes are deeply personal (though not necessarily private) and the job of our laws and policies is to facilitate these personal choices without unjustifiable bias or prejudice. And as the demand for equitable law and policy continues, as Professor Franke makes clear, those demands for protection and acknowledgment can help to de-center marriage in family life, which is almost certainly a good thing for many people.

2

A Historian’s Comments on Katherine Franke’s Wedlocked

In Wedlocked: The Perils of Marriage Equality legal scholar Katherine Franke compares the African American experience with marriage in the wake of the Civil War, with the quest for marriage equality for queers. Relying on a wide variety of archival sources and the experiences of lawyers specializing in queer family law, Franke details the problems that African Americans faced in their first encounters with marriage, drawing vital conclusions about the care queer people should take when we consider the implications of our newly won right to marry. As Franke so astutely asks, why should queers, who only recently gained the right to be free of state criminalization of our sexual lives in Lawrence v. Texas (2003), immediately invite the state to regulate those newly gained sexual freedoms through the institution of marriage? This question seems especially important given the profoundly gendered nature of Anglo-American marriage. Why would a people, who, by the very nature of our desires, trouble the gender binary, sign up for an institution that has historically been premised on it? Marriage, as Franke states, has “its own well-entrenched agenda” and thus “is a particularly value-laden institution within which to lodge claims for full citizenship.” (143)

Franke frames each chapter with a discussion of African Americans initial experiences with marriage, and thus, with the state. Rather than freeing black families to organize their families as they pleased, she finds that marriage instead opened them up to new forms of white violence, domination and control. For example, in the wake of the Civil War, Franke demonstrates that many states automatically married African Americans who lived in relationships that appeared “marriage-like” without their consent, or at times, even knowledge. People who had been living together in a variety of arrangements suddenly found themselves actually married. This preemptory state move did have some positive effects. After all, marriage licenses cost money– money that most couples in desperately impoverished African American community did not have. However, this also resulted in couples who had no intention of marrying, or any knowledge of the legal requirements of marriage, ending up married.

These automatic marriages opened African Americans to state discipline when they violated the laws governing marriage, such as monogamy and the need for divorce when ending relationships. This proved particularly devastating when the state, often at the instigation of jilted partners, began to prosecute African Americans for crimes directly related to their status as married or unmarried people—bigamy, adultery and fornication. Franke speculates that southern state governments bent on maintaining white supremacy, might have deliberately used violations of marriage law to deprive African American men of the vote, as many states then and now, had laws that disfranchised felons. Even more pernicious, she also wonders if states may have been motivated to prosecute African American men to pull them into the convict lease system. Convict lease, the use of convicts as unpaid laborers for either private or state projects, became a virulently exploitative form of labor discipline directed against African Americans well into the twentieth century.

Franke’s second major point revolves around the formation of alternative structures of family in both the African American and queer communities. Slave law (which traced descent through the mother) combined with traditions brought from West Africa, made slave families broadly matrilineal and matrilocal. Furthermore, the pressures of slavery, particularly the need for abroad marriages (husbands and wives who lived on separate plantations) and forced separation through sale, produced both polygamy (also found in West Africa) and serial monogamy. Finally, the disruptions of slavery encouraged a commitment to much broader family ties among slaves than among whites in the antebellum period. Slave communities relied both on extended kin, particularly aunts and grandmothers, and on what anthropologists call “chosen kin,” people with no blood ties who nevertheless take on family responsibilities. Historians have argued that this diversity of family forms encouraged resiliency among both individuals and the broader African American community.

While feminist historians have rightly cast these differences in a positive light (feminist evolutionary biologists point out that matrilineality produces better child outcomes than other systems), Franke demonstrates how whites (then and now) used diversity in family forms as proof of African American’s racial inferiority. Because they did not or could not always follow the “ideal” nuclear family form with a breadwinning husband and an economically dependent wife, whites consistently denied African American humanity. Denigrating them as inherently “immoral” people who had disorganized and dysfunctional families, whites in the 19th century argued against African American claims for citizenship rights.

Like African Americans, queers have developed a variety of family forms and embrace a much broader definition of family membership. Historically, queer couples, particularly men, have negotiated rather than assumed monogamy, even in long term relationships. Queers also rely extensively on “chosen families” made up of friends and ex-lovers. Finally, when they have children, queers deploy a number of strategies that, Franke points out, stretch the boundaries of legal definitions of families. In addition to the more “homonormative” (to borrow Lisa Duggan’s apt term) choices like couples adopting children, or having a child through ART, some queer folk create families with more than two parents. A lesbian couple, for example, who ask a gay male friend to provide sperm, might also ask him to be a “duncle” (donor uncle) who maintains a relationship with the child that, while not like a father, still provides important support and love. There are a myriad of ways in which queer families strain the traditional legal definitions of family with alternative models that, like strategies among African American, increase our resiliency.

Given these shared characteristics, Franke cautions queers about the dangers that marriage may pose to these much broader family ties. First, she points out, marriage would not protect any of these relationships. The fact that a lesbian couple could marry, for example, would do little to solidify their gay donor’s relationship to their child, much less, say, that of his siblings who may well be functioning as a third set of aunts and uncles. Second, Franke points out that the marriage equality movement itself has cast families not based on marriage as inferior and dysfunctional in order to emphasize the harm produced by policies that restrict marriage to one man and one woman. In their attempts to win marriage equality, she argues, proponents for marriage equality have thrown the rest of our family forms under the married nuclear family bus.

Finally, the granting of marriage equality has, in many states, actually damaged the ability of people to protect family members through means other than marriage.   In many states that have granted gay marriage, legislatures and private institutions have eliminated with domestic partnership registries or benefits. This denies all couples the right to choose between marriage and other kinds of relationships. As Franke points out, some couples may not be interested in the full set of responsibilities contained in marriage, but may still want the more limited set of benefits that derive from domestic partnership. Among other things, while marriage is easy, divorce can be difficult and expensive. Many couples may want to be recognized as partners, but might not be ready for marriage and the attendant risk of spending a lot of money should they break up. All in all, Franke is absolutely right that marriage does not solve all of our complex family problems, and in fact, when not thought through carefully, it may increase them. She argues persuasively for more choices in our family forms, rather than fewer.

Since I have been brought on board as the pet historian, I do feel I must add a little historical context to Franke’s text. Her arguments about the dangers of marriage are apt, but she provides little explanation, beyond a desire for “equality,” as to why the queer community turned to marriage. This leaves the reader wondering why in the world we would pursue such clearly problematic strategy, especially since, as Franke rightly indicates, gay liberation and feminist activists of the 1970s rejected marriage as an oppressive institution. The answer, of course, lies in the very real family crises the queer community confronted in the 1980s. As historian George Chauncey argues, both the lesbian baby boom and the AIDS epidemic forced the queer community to confront the problems attendant to having no easy way to legally acknowledge our family ties. Issues of custody, medical decision making, benefits and inheritance compelled us to turn to marriage as a one-stop-shopping for family rights in the context of the life and death decisions we confronted. In fact, had U.S. law not attached so many rights and benefits to marriage, it seems unlikely queers would have pursued marriage as a goal. (Chauncey, Why Marriage, 87-136))

To me, the most interesting part of Franke’s argument lies in the discontinuities rather than continuities between African American experience in the wake of the Civil War, and contemporary queer experience. She expected, for example, that queers, like African Americans, would experience an upsurge in discrimination and hostile attention from the state upon marriage. But this has, she freely admits, largely failed to happen. Similar to African Americans who brought their spouses before the courts for adultery, some queers have used the rules of marriage (and particularly the assumption of monogamy) to disadvantage ex-partners in matters of child custody and property settlement. She also has found a revival of interest among conservative lawmakers to strengthen (rather than doing away with) state laws against sex crimes like fornication and adultery, which are rarely enforced but remain on the books. However, Franke did not find that states used these laws disproportionately against queer people in the wake of queer marriage victories, as states did against African Americans in the 19th century.

Franke attributes this difference to the way gayness, and by extension, marriage equality, have broadly been seen as white, even if, in fact, many people of color identify as queer. She points out that most of leadership of “big gay” organizations are white and middle class, as have been the majority of plaintiffs in gay marriage cases. This perceived whiteness has increased the respectability of the movement, perhaps to the detriment of African American families, who have been unable, as hard as they try, to shed racist stereotypes of family disorganization and dysfunction.

Second, Franke argues that seeking civil rights through marriage itself represents a “traditional,” perhaps even conservative path. Marriage equality advocates have argued that they should be allowed to participate in marriage as it is currently defined. They have not, for example, pointed out the myriad of ways having two men, or two women, marry might challenge the deeply gendered nature of the institution itself. As she explains, “when the conservatives sign up for marriage equality, they do so because it dawns on them that their interests in traditional family values, in the nuclear family, in privatizing dependency, and in bourgeois respectability are stronger than their homophobia.” (203). Gay marriage, she argues, has allowed gays to take the “sex” out of “homosexuality.” It has allowed us to make homosexuality about family, intimacy and caregiving, rather than various kinds of stigmatized sexual activities, which, she and I both agree, continue to be fun, and worthy of championing.

Franke then raises, but does not answer, the essential question of why blackness has continued to carry such negative valences, even as queers have been able to “rebrand” homosexuality as family friendly, all-American and not really about sex at all. Here, my work on the relationships between gays and family in the post-war period may provide us an answer. Very broadly, I argue that the gay community’s strategy for gaining social acceptance put family bonds to the work of destigmatizing homosexuality.

“Coming out,” first popularized with gay liberation in the early 1970s, asked queer people to tell family and friends about their sexual orientation. The idea was that this would liberate them as individuals, but that it would also liberate the community by challenging heterosexual family members to rethink long held negative stereotypes about homosexuality. Furthermore, once out, the lived experience of queers in America exposes our kin to the depth of hostility and discrimination we face. However, the intense racial segregation of most American cities, ensures that we continue to live, work, and go to school with our own racial groups. U.S. public policy in the 20th century, particularly the Federal Housing Authority, actively promoted segregation, denying both whites and racial minorities the opportunity to live and go to school together, and therefore to know each other in intimate and productive ways. This is one of the many forms of systemic racism white Americans continue to ignore. Deploying kin and the bonds of love in the service of liberation has been a tremendously successful strategy for queers, and it explains why we, as Americans have come so far in such a short period of time on issues of sexual diversity, but have, at the same time, failed to make much progress addressing race, racism, and profound racial disparities.

Franke’s text is a reminder to the queer community that we are at a political and moral crossroads. While we still face some forms of discrimination, particularly the violence directed at trans folk, the fortunes of gender normative queer people have risen substantially. Having engaged in so much creative work around family, equality, and liberty over the last fifty years, we must now choose whether to retreat with our (now) homonormative families to the white suburbs, or to continue the fight for greater equality for all Americans. We know the vicious sting of discrimination, and we know what it’s like to fight desperately for our families as we define them. The question is, will we take those lessons into the fights against poverty and racism? History will judge us in the alliances we make, and the battles we bring. Like Franke, I would like to see us to continue in our queer battle to support all families, not just the ones we can defend through marriage.

 

9

Crisis of the Dissents Divided? — Disagreement among the Obergefell Four

imagesIn the various news feeds and pundit commentaries concerning the recent same-sex marriage case, the focus has been on the divide between the majority and dissenting opinions. Some side with the majority, others with the dissenters. Putting such differences aside for the moment, what is noteworthy is that while the Justices in the majority all spoke with one voice, the same was not true for the dissenters.

Though the judgment in Obergefell v. Hodges was 5-4, none of the four separate dissents garnered more than a total of three votes:

  • 3 votes: Chief Justice Roberts’ dissent — joined by Justices Scalia and Thomas
  • 3 votes: Justice Alito’s dissent — joined by Justices Scalia and Thomas
  • 2 votes: Justice Scalia’s dissent — joined by Justice Thomas
  • 2 votes: Justice Thomas’ dissent — joined by Justice Scalia

Notably, neither the Chief Justice nor Justice Alito signed onto any of the other dissents. Why?

The Scalia Dissent: Too confrontational?

UnknownWhile the Chief Justice and Justice Alito share many of the constitutional concerns stated by Justice Scalia (e.g., the need for judicial restraint, adherence to precedent, undermining the political process, and deference to the traditional roles of the states), they tend to be uneasy with the kind of in-your-face confrontational tone Justice Scalia employed in his unrestrained dissent.

It is a tried-and-true canon of civility: Attempt to avoid confrontational terms or phrases such as “hubris,” “egotistic,” “mummeries,” and “silly extravagances.” By that creed of civility it is unnecessarily vituperative to equate another Justice’s reasoning with “mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie” or “pop-philosophy” or to refer to that Justice’s opinion as “judicial Putsch” – even if the seriousness of the latter is “not of immense personal importance” to you.

The Thomas Dissent: Too cabined or too natural law focused?

UnknownThe Chief Justice and Justice Alito also did not sign onto Justice Thomas’ dissent. Why? Though it is more difficult to answer this question, one explanation is a possible disagreement over the contours of due process as Justice Thomas offered it up. That is, his conservative colleagues may have been uncomfortable with Thomas’ reliance on Blackstonian notions of due process – notions perhaps too cabined for their constitutional tastes. Consider in this regard Professor Michael Dorf’s observation over at SCOTUSblog: “To the extent that Justice Thomas would allow any substantive due process, it would be for the liberty of movement only, and failing that, for no more than negative liberties. Marriage, as state recognition, would not be a fundamental right for anyone.”

And then there is Justice Thomas’ invocation of natural law and natural rights. The debate over the use and relevance of natural law has been an ongoing one in conservative circles. On that score, Chief Justice Roberts’ former boss, William Rehnquist, once found himself in the crosshairs of controversy brought on by a defender of natural law. See Harry V. Jaffa, Storm over the Constitution (1999) and his Original Intent and the Framers of the Constitution: A Disputed Question (1994) and his article “Judicial Conscience and Natural Rights,” 11 U. Puget Sound L. Rev. 219 (1987).

The Alito Dissent: Reservations about the “further decay” of marriage argument?

(drawing by Arthur Lien: courtartist.com)

(drawing by Arthur Lien: courtartist.com)

While there is much similarity between the Roberts and Alito dissents on matters such as due process, equal protection, and the specter of vilifying people of faith, both nonetheless declined to affirm the other’s dissent. What might explain the Chief Justice’s unwillingness?

Did he have some reservations about the following?: “the tie between marriage and procreation has frayed. Today, for instance, more than 40% of all children in this country are born to unmarried women. This development undoubtedly is both a cause and a result of changes in our society’s understanding of marriage. While, for many, the attributes of marriage in 21st-century America have changed, those States that do not want to recognize same-sex marriage have not yet given up on the traditional understanding. They worry that by officially abandoning the older understanding, they may contribute to marriage’s further decay.”

The Roberts Dissent: Too charitable?

(credit: WSJ)

(credit: WSJ)

If you believe (as Justice Alito seems to) that same-sex marriages may contribute to the “further decay” of marriage, then you are unlikely to be as generous of spirit as the Chief Justice was when he declared: “If you are among the many Americans — of whatever sexual orientation — who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision. Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. . . .” By the same normative token, Justice Alito is not one who would appear to be inclined to say: “Many people will rejoice at [today’s] decision, and I begrudge none their celebration.”

Or what about this Roberts’ statement?: “The opinion describes the ‘transcendent importance’ of marriage and repeatedly insists that petitioners do not seek to ‘demean,’ ‘devalue,’ ‘denigrate,’ or ‘disrespect’ the institution. . . . Nobody disputes those points.” Nobody?

Here, too, speculation is more the measure than certainty.

Crisis of the Dissents Divided?

However close my speculations are to the mark, one thing is certain: there was no unanimity of thought strong enough to convince the four dissenting Justices to lend all of their names to a single opinion. Despite their strong differences with the majority opinion, they, too, had reservations about one another’s views of law and life and how those differences should be expressed.

* * * * 

(credit: NYT)

(credit: NYT)

On a related point: What are we to make of the fact that none of the four liberal Justices who signed onto Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in Obergefell found it necessary, or desirable, to write separate concurrences? The same was true with Justices Stevens, Ginsburg and Breyer in Romer v. Evans (1996) and Lawrence v. Texas (2003), and later with Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan in United States v. Windsor (2013).

One would think that these four Justices would push for a more protective conception of equal protection concerning discrimination against gays and lesbians. No? Then again, perhaps these four think the body of law tracing back to at least Romer will suffice.  And so far it has.

Posner
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Posner on Same-Sex Marriage: Then and Now

. . .  I disagree with contentions that the Constitution should be interpreted to require state recognition of homosexual marriage on the ground that it is a violation of equal protection of the laws to discriminate against homosexuals by denying them that right. Given civil unions, and contractual substitutes for marriage even short of civil unions, the discrimination involved in denying the right of homosexual marriage seems to me too slight (though I would not call it trivial) to warrant the courts in bucking strong public opinion . . . . — Richard Posner (2005)

At various points [in oral arguments in the same-sex cases], Judge Posner derided arguments from the Wisconsin and Indiana lawyers as “pathetic,” “ridiculous,” and “absurd.” — David Lat (2014)

This is the ninth installment in the “Posner on Posner” series of posts on Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner. The first installment can be found here, the second here, the third here, the fourth here, the fifth here, the sixth here, the seventh here, and the eighth one here.

Following the fourth installment in the Posner on Posner series of posts, someone commented on a point Judge Posner made in response to a question posed to him by Professor Kathryn Watts. That comment is set out below. Following it are excerpts from Judge Posner’s 1997 Michigan Law Review essay critiquing Professor William Eskridge’s The Case for Same-Sex Marriage: From Sexual Liberty to Civilized Commitment (1996). Accompanying them are some excerpts from Judge Posner’s opinion Baskin v. Bogan (7th Cir., Sept. 4, 2104, cert. denied and cert denied sub nom., 135 S. Ct. 316) in which he struck down two state laws banning same-sex marriage.

judgeposner_2010All of this is offered up duly mindful what Judge Posner said in a July of 2014 interview: “I’ve changed my views a lot over the years. I’m much less reactionary than I used to be. I was opposed to homosexual marriage in my book Sex and Reason (1992) [see here re those arguments], which was still the dark ages regarding public opinion of homosexuality. Public opinion changed radically in the years since. My views have changed about a lot of things.”

Of course, those comments from his 2014 interview with Joel Cohen were rendered before the Baskin case came before his court. Since the same-sex marriage cases are not  before the Supreme Court for review, I did not ask the Judge to comment on the matter.

That said, I begin with the online commentators remarks and will thereafter proceed to offer some excerpts:

  1. from Posner’s Sex and Reason (S&R)
  2. his Michigan Law Review essay (MLR)
  3. his Baskin opinion (BB), and
  4. some excerpts from the petition (CP) filed by the Attorney General of Indiana in Baskin since it references Judge Posner’s Michigan Law Review Essay and does so in support of its arguments for reversing the Seventh Circuit’s ruling.

Before offering any excerpts, however, I offer a historical sketch of the legal context in which Judge Posner found himself when he first wrote his book and law review essay and thereafter when he wrote his Baskin opinion.  

(Note: Some of the links below will open in Firefox and Chrome but not in Safari.)

Praise for Posner: On Judges Educating the Public

LGBT (12-3-14)Judge Posner, I am thinking you will probably read comments so I am taking this opportunity to reach out to you and sincerely thank you for your decision on the Wisconsin & Indiana cases on Gay Marriage. Your ruling was a Tour de Force (!) that got quoted & re-quoted all over the gay blogosphere. The lawyers and other Judges will remember other things you did, but the PUBLIC will remember your decision in the Gay Marriage cases. This will be the opinion that will be cited in the History books. And what was REALLY GREAT is how fast you turned it around. It was oral arguments, then BAM! . . .”

“How wrong you are when you say in your interview, ‘it’s unrealistic for judges to try to educate the general public. I don’t think the general public is interested in anything about judicial opinions except who won the case.’ Not in the Gay Marriage cases; the interest is not simply that we won, but WHY we won. Your words have been copied and pasted all over the gay blogosphere. I know that there is one gay website that gets 30 million hits a year, just that one site. Trust me your opinion was read by millions. It wasn’t simply who won, but WHY the gays won. It was validation to them, they read it and felt validated. You told them they were Equal, and that raised a lot of emotions. Tears were shed, a lot of them. People were commenting how they were reading your opinion and crying, it was very emotional for many, many people. Your opinion will most certainly go down in the history books on the history of the Gay Rights Movement. And I thank you deeply for it.”

______________________

The Historical Backdrop

UnknownTurn the clock back to 1992, the time when then Judge Posner published Sex and Reason. That was before the Hawaii Supreme Court’s seminal ruling in Baehr v. Lewin (1993) in which it ruled that denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples violated the equality of rights provision of the state constitution unless the state could demonstrate a compelling interest for such discrimination. And the year before Posner published his Michigan Law Review essay (when Eskridge taught at Georgetown), President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law. Recall, that law permitted the states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages and remained on the books until Section 3 of the Act was declared unconstitutional by a 5-4 margin in United States v. Windsor. In 1999 Vermont Supreme Court took the lead in ordering the state legislature to establish laws permitting same-sex marriages (Baker v. Vermont was the case). In 2000 the Vermont legislature enacted just such a law, making Vermont the first state in the Union to recognize same-sex marriages.

 As for guidance from the Supreme Court, recall that Romer v. Evans (a rather confusing opinion by a divided Court) was handed down in 1996 and Lawrence v. Texas in 2003.

Different Domains: Scholarly Opinions vs Judicial Opinions 

If pursued with characteristic Posnerian relentlessness, [several of his] premises [in Sex and Reason] could yield radically pro-gay policies. But Posner does not press his analysis and, instead, neglects his stated first principles. His treatment of gaylegal issues tends to collapse into well-meaning ad hoc-ness.

[R]epealing sodomy laws and outlawing overt discrimination against bisexuals, gay men, and lesbians are easy cases for a rationalist, libertarian analysis. But a tough-minded cost-benefit analysis [such as the one Posner employs] would not stop with the easiest cases. Recognizing the same constitutional right to privacy for same-sex intimacy as is accorded different-sex intimacy, ending the military’s exclusion of bisexuals, gay men, and lesbians, and requiring states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples are conclusions that are scarcely less compelling under Posner’s first principles. Yet Posner himself rejects or avoids these latter conclusions. And he does not even discuss other issues of profound importance to lesbian, gay, and bisexual communities.                        – William Eskridge (1992)

Professor William Eskridge

Professor William Eskridge

One does not have to defend Richard Posner’s early views on same-sex marriage to concede the obvious: it was a different legal world. Still, a new legal order was emerging as evidenced by two noteworthy pieces by Professor William Eskridge: First, his 1992 Yale Law Journal review essay of Sex and Reason, and second, his 1993 Virginia Law Review article, “A History of Same-Sex Marriage.” And then there was Professor Robin West’s critical 1993 Georgetown Law Journal review essay on Sex and Reason.

 Richard Posner, an intermediate appellate judge, was not then a part of that emerging order. As a jurist he yielded, so he asserted, to the dictates of judicial modesty. While such dictates understandably restricted the direction of his judicial opinions, they need not have dictated the direction of his scholarly opinions in which he often demonstrated a unique cerebral bravado and a willingness to be a maverick in forging creative arguments. Moreover, in his capacity as a public intellectual and legal scholar, Posner was quite outspoken in refuting the critics of his work. See, e.g., his “The Radical Feminist Critique of Sex and Reason” (1993) article. In all of this, it is important to note that Posner nonetheless: (1) favored decriminalizing homosexual sex; (2) endorsed contracts of cohabitation for same-sex couples; and (3) was fine with legislative enactments legalizing same-sex marriage.

Thus, prior to the oral arguments in Baskin v. Bogan and the opinion in that case, what Posner had written in Sex and Reason and in his Michigan Law Review essay gave a meaningful degree of legal legitimacy to the campaign to oppose same-sex marriage. As late as 2004, Posner’s arguments were reproduced in a collection of essays (edited by Andrew Sullivan and first published in 1997) on same sex-marriage. And then there is his 2005 statement quoted at the outset of this post. It took nearly 17 years after the Michigan Law Review essay was published before Judge Posner expressed any significantly different views, first in a 2014 interview and then in a 2014 judicial opinion. Why so long?

A pragmatic reformer is concerned with what works and therefore cannot ignore public opinion or political realities just because the things he wants to change are not rooted in nature but instead are “mere” constructs. — Richard Posner (1995)

Safe Harbor Read More

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New Jersey Crosses the Finish Line to Marriage Equality – Maybe

Same-sex marriage became legal in New Jersey at 12:01 am on Monday, October 21. Wedding ceremonies are everywhere. The process may not be over, however; there are tactical decisions yet to be made as to how best to solidify and clarify the win.

It was a roundabout victory, achieved via a Superior Court decision last month, in which Judge Mary Jacobson held that civil union did not satisfy a state constitutional mandate of equal protection established in Lewis v. Harris (N.J. 2006). There followed, on Friday, October 18, a unanimous state Supreme Court ruling denying a motion for stay of Judge Jacobson’s order. So it’s legal for same-sex couples to marry here, but there is no a ruling on the merits by the state Supreme Court. That’s the problem. Read More

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What’s in a Name?

Friday’s New Jersey Superior Court decision in Garden State Equality v. Dow holding that equal protection requires the extension of marriage to same-sex couples was an important victory for marriage equality overall and for recognition of the importance of naming. The decision arises at a time when debate continues over whether the New Jersey legislature will override the gubernatorial veto of the last year’s Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act, which would have extended the title of marriage to same-sex couples in New Jersey.

 

Seven years ago, the New Jersey Supreme Court concluded in Lewis v. Harris that the equal protection challenge to the state’s refusal to marry same-sex couples could be separated into two distinct issues – (1) whether same-sex couples had an equal right to the rights of marriage; and (2) whether they had a right to the title “marriage.”  As to the first question, the court easily concluded that same-sex couples were entitled under equal protection principles to the benefits and privileges of marriage.  But as to the second question, the court was careful to maintain a distinction between substantive rights and naming.  In deferring to the legislature, the majority chose not to “presume that a difference in name alone is of constitutional magnitude.”

 

The question of access to the title of “marriage” has often focused on the social costs associated with being labeled something other than married.  In her stirring dissent from the court’s deferral of the naming question in Lewis v. Harris, then-Chief Justice Poritz identified the stigma and devaluation flowing from giving same-sex couples a title other than marriage.  I have written more extensively about this issue elsewhere.

 

The decision in Garden State Equality v. Dow highlights the substantive costs (apart from the social ones) of failing to use the term “marriage.”  With DOMA’s Section 3 in place prior to Windsor, committed couples in New Jersey—in marriages or civil unions—were similarly, if not equally, situated regarding substantive rights and privileges.  But with Section 3 invalidated and many federal agencies conferring federal benefits only to married same-sex couples, not couples in civil unions, New Jersey’s committed same-sex couples do not receive equal protection as promised by Lewis.  The decision underscores just how much there is in a name.

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The Decline of Homophobia and the Rise of Heterophilia in the Aftermath of United States v. Windsor (Part II)

In my article Discriminating Speech: On the Heterophilia of Freedom of Speech Doctrine Heterophilia I introduced the concept of law’s inherent heterophilia. One can see it as a new generation of homophobia, more politically correct perhaps, in which the goal of eradication has been substituted by the goal of assimilation.  The need to cover, which almost every LGBT individual has experienced and which has been so shrewdly identified by Kenji Yoshino in his book “Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights,” is a typical product of social and legal heterophilia that seeks to encourage such assimilation.  Because of its benign nature, legal heterophilia, as opposed to legal homophobia, is much harder to detect, and therefore it is much harder to fight.

How can we distinguish law’s homophobia from law’s heterophilia?  To be sure, it is not easy to draw the line between homophobia and heterophilia, and many heterophile actions can be interpreted as unconsciously homophobic.  However, generally speaking, laws that privilege predominantly heterosexual institutions, such as marriage, are heterophile in nature, while laws that restrict LGBT individuals, discriminate against them, or punish them as such, would be labeled as homophobic.  Thus, laws privileging married couples and awarding them forms of protection that unmarried couples cannot receive are heterophilic as long as LGBT individuals cannot get married, and probably as long as they do not extend those privileges to all couples, married and unmarried, gay or straight. The Mayo Clinic’s policy demanding same-sex couples to marry or else the employees’ spouses will lose their health benefits, instead of extending the benefits to all partner regardless their marital status and their sexual orientation is a product of socio-legal heterophilia.

Indeed, the very demand to marry, which is a consequence of the Windsor case, is heterophilic even when it does not involve the carrot of benefits or the stick of their denial. As a recent New York Times article demonstrates, such social requirement is becoming more and more conspicuous in the wake of the Windsor ruling. And what is fascinating, is that heterosexuals are the ones who nudge same-sex partners to marry most.

While not using the term “heterophilia” or its derivatives, Janet Halley has exposed some of the most heterophilic strands of the institution of marriage in her 2010 article Behind the Law of Marriage (I): From Status/Contract to the Marriage System.  Marriage law, however, is not only heterophilic; it also has homophobic qualities, as many scholars have rightly observed. It remains to be seen if society and the courts will be able to release themselves of all forms of prejudice and discrimination concerning marriage and marital status. Getting rid of the homophobic Section 3 of DOMA was only the first step in this direction.

Part I of this post.

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The Decline of Homophobia and the Rise of Heterophilia in the Aftermath of United States v. Windsor (Part I)

Hello everyone, and thanks Solangel and the other regulars for hosting me here. I thought I would begin with some thoughts on the aftermath of United States v. Windsor, in which the Supreme Court invalidated Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). June 26, 2013, the day in which the case was decided, will no doubt be one of those days that many will reminiscent about, ask and will be asked “where were you when the decision was published?” As someone who studied is Constitutional Law class when the 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick was still the law, the day Windsor was decided was a truly wonderful day for me. Indeed, this day marked a significant decline in legal homophobia, and we should all celebrate that. But is it the end of marriage-based discrimination?
I’m afraid that the answer to this question is “not yet.” It seems that the campaign for same-sex marriage has been almost too successful, and that the right to marry is rapidly becoming a requirement to do so. Postbulletin.com reports that the Minnesota Mayo Clinic is requiring its LGBT employees to marry their same-sex partners in order to continue their eligibility for health benefits. The previous policy was introduced in order to remedy the discrimination against LGBT employees who could not marry their partners. Now when they can do so, they must, if they wish to continue to be eligible for the benefits. There will even be a deadline for these couples to get married. What a charged idea, a deadline to get married, and one that is created by one of the partners’ employee!
On the face of it, there is nothing wrong with this change: Under this policy, unmarried heterosexual partners of employees are ineligible for health benefits. The update is necessary in order not to create a new form of discrimination, this time against unmarried heterosexual couples. But this is only one way of looking at this policy.
The updated policy which requires same-sex couples to marry in order to keep their health benefits exposes what I call law’s heterophilia, a concept which I have introduced in a recent article. Much has been written about law’s homophobia, past and present. Various forms of discrimination against LGBT individuals have been labeled “homophobic” and in most cases, justly so. But law sports an additional, more insidious prejudice—namely, heterophilia.
Homophobia works “against” LGBTs. Criminalization of sex between men or between women is homophobic. But what are we to make of legal norms that do not work directly “against” gays, but “for” heterosexuals? Such norms do not consciously discriminate against LGBT individuals, but privilege heterosexuals (not all of them, as I explain below). The underlying result is discrimination. These norms are not homophobic in the sense that unlike sodomy laws, they were not designed with the specific aim of persecuting sexual minorities.
I borrow the term “heterophilia” from psychoanalyst David Schwartz, who argued in the early 1990s that in addition to homophobia—a well-explored prejudice which is rooted in devaluation—there can be another form of prejudice against LGBT individuals which is rooted in “philia,” namely in the idealization of heterosexuality. Heterophilia, argued Schwartz, is an “unarticulated belief in a particular sexual ideology,” rather than an objection to an alternative sexual ideology. By the absence of phobia, and in many cases by actual acceptance of LGBT individuals in several respects, heterophiles “immunize their ideological commitments against articulation and scrutiny.”
Now, let’s return to the Mayo Clinic’s revised spousal health benefit policy. Heterophilia idealizes not merely heterosexuality, but heterosexual monogamous relationships in which the spouses are married to each other. Marriage is the quintessential heterophile institution. This is why heterophilia can discriminate not just against LGBTs, but also against heterosexuals who refuse to get married. They too are ineligible for health benefits for their partners, if they are employed by a company who has a similar policy in place.
While the Windsor Court’s ruling is just and humane, it exists within a context, and is subject to interpretation (or misinterpretation and even abuse) within that context. One such misinterpretation is the quick evolution of an equal right to marry for LGBTs into a requirement. Critics of the campaign for same-sex marriage have warned against this consequence. But I believe that the critique was misdirected. The problem is not with the proponents of same-sex marriage, but rather with the general socio-legal culture, which still discriminates on the basis of marital status and, now, happily, does so regardless of one’s sexual orientation.

Part II of this post.

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Dronenburg and Reasonableness

San Diego County Clerk Ernest Dronenburg filed a petition yesterday seeking to prevent California county clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples until a set of legal issues have been clarified. A reporter from the Union-Tribune called me to discuss the filing, and I ended up being quoted for the idea that the filing was “reasonable” because of legal uncertainties, as a sort of counter-balance to an Aaron Caplan quote that the request will not not “go far.”

Both of which are, I think, correct — but in different ways. Due to the limits of the newspaper medium, a twenty-minute phone interview ended up condensed into a soundbite which — well, which may not seem reasonable. I suspect that this has to do with word limits and editors and the need for a news story with a particular narrative balance. (“I mostly agree with what the other guy said” is a boring article.) But here on blog, we can elaborate in more detail on exactly which ways the Dronenburg filing may or may not be reasonable. Read More