Same-Sex Marriage Support Gets a Hat Trick:
Laws found unconstitutional in Ohio, Utah, and New Mexico
It was a good week in the courts for supporters of same-sex marriage rights. Over a span of four days, not one but three different courts came down with favorable decisions towards same-sex marriage. Each of the decisions arose from slightly different reasoning, but taken together, they suggest a pretty clear trend for future litigation over same-sex marriage laws.
First up, on December 19, was the New Mexico state Supreme Court. The case at issue there was about whether the state’s statutory scheme denying same-sex couples the right to marry violated the New Mexico constitution, not the federal constitution The court found that the laws did in fact violate the state constitution, specifically the portion of that constitution which provided for equal protection to all citizens. To resolve this issue, the court considered whether there was evidence to show that allowing same-sex marriages could result in married couples divorcing at an increased rate (no) or whether forbidding same-sex marriages could result in more opposite-sex marriages for the purpose of procreating (no). The court also found that simply saying that the state wanted to maintain the tradition of excluding same-sex marriages on a “that’s the way we’ve always done it” basis was not enough of a reason to uphold the laws. Finally, same-sex couples were as capable of responsible procreation as were opposite-sex couples, and excluding same-sex couples from civil marriage prevented children of same-sex couples from enjoying the security that flowed from the rights, protections, and responsibilities that accompanied civil marriage.
A day later, a federal court found that Utah laws, which included an amendment to the Utah Constitution, denying same-sex couples the ability to marry was in violation of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the federal constitution. The court reasoned that gay and lesbian citizens’ fundamental right to marry, which was protected by the due process clause, included several associated rights, such as the rights to privacy, dignity, and intimate association. Like the court in New Mexico, the federal Utah court considered whether relevant outside evidence existed, but this time the court looked for evidence that homosexual citizens could change their sexual identity if they desired to do so. Finding none, the court found that the impact of Utah’s laws was to force its gay and lesbian citizens to remain unmarried.
Three days after that, on December 23, a federal district court found that Ohio’s constitutional and statutory bans on the recognition of same-sex surviving spouses’ already-existing legal marriages on their partners’ death certificates violated their Fourteenth Amendment rights. Whether a law treating a particular group of people differently violates the Fourteenth Amendment often turns on a balancing analysis, and in this case the court found that Ohio lacked a sufficiently compelling state interest to counterbalance the harm to same-sex spouses from loss of their interests in the dignity, status, recognition, and protection of their lawful marriages without any due process protection. The recognition bans unjustifiably created two tiers of couples, without any rational connection between the bans and the asserted state interests.
Minnesota legalized same-sex marriages in May 2013 and recognizes valid same-sex marriages entered into in other states.
Rosengren Kohlmeyer Law Office