Constitutional Countdown

New moves add impetus to Supreme Court's date with marriage

By Justin Snow
Published on August 2, 2012, 4:01am | Comments

On the same day that a federal judge in Connecticut became the latest to strike down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, supporters of California's ban on same-sex marriages petitioned their battle to the Supreme Court.

The petition comes nearly four years after California voters approved Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in the state, in November 2008 after the state had already granted same-sex couples the right to marry. For three years the constitutional amendment has been working its way through the courts.

A U.S. District Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have both ruled that Proposition 8 violates the Constitution's due process and equal protection clauses. Although Proposition 8 supporters petitioned the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for a rehearing, their petition was denied in June. Now they hope the Supreme Court will take up the case.

In a petition that runs nearly 500 pages, Proposition 8 supporters asked the country's highest court to weigh in on the case because it raises the ''profoundly important question whether the ancient and vital institution of marriage should be fundamentally redefined to include same-sex couples.''

Responding to the news of the petition, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement that he was certain the Supreme Court would uphold the lower courts' rulings.

''Despite losses in two federal courts and millions of dollars wasted, the proponents of Proposition 8 persist in their effort to hurt California families,'' Griffin said. ''Even if the Supreme Court decides to review the Ninth Circuit's decision, I am confident that they will come to the same conclusion as the judges, appointed by Democrats and Republicans, who have heard the case before them: Prop 8 simply cannot stand.''

Although the federal government has not taken a stand in the Proposition 8 case, it has been part of growing momentum in opposition to DOMA, which forbids federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

On July 31 — the same day Proposition 8 supporters petitioned the Supreme Court — U.S. District Court Judge Vanessa Bryant ruled in Pedersen v. Office of Personnel Management that Section 3 of DOMA, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriages, is unconstitutional on the grounds that it violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

In her more than 100-page ruling, Bryant writes that Section 3 of DOMA "obligates the federal government to single out a certain category of marriages as excluded from federal recognition."

The ruling was another defeat for the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG), which is controlled by House Republicans and has sought to defend the constitutionality of DOMA since the Obama administration stopped doing so in February 2011.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) joined in applauding the decision as ''another historic step forward in the fight for equality for LGBT Americans,'' but couldn't resist taking a swipe at House Republicans.

''The District Court's decision marks the fifth time Speaker Boehner has wasted taxpayer dollars on a failed effort to defend discrimination and undermine civil rights,'' Pelosi said in a statement. ''The congressional Republicans' single-minded effort to uphold DOMA at any cost comes at great expense to the American people and rejects our nation's heritage of equality for all.''

The case was originally filed in the Federal District Court of Connecticut in November 2010 and centers around Joanne Pendersen and her wife, Ann Meitzen. Pendersen, who served in a civilian position for the U.S. Department of the Navy for 30 years, sued the federal government after Meitzen was denied coverage on her federal health insurance plan because of DOMA.

Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) represented the plaintiffs in the case.

Mary L. Bonauto, GLAD's Civil Rights Project director, said in a statement, "Judge Bryant's ruling is very clear: married people are married and should be treated as such by the federal government. There is no legitimate basis for DOMA's broad disrespect of the marriages of same-sex couples."

Pendersen said she was thrilled with the court's ruling.

"I loved working for the Navy for many years, and now that I am retired I now just want to care for my wife and make sure we can enjoy some happy and healthy years together. DOMA has prevented us from doing that," she said in a statement.

According to GLAD, the case will inevitably be appealed by BLAG to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit sometime within the next 60 days.

Several DOMA-related cases have already been petitioned to the Supreme Court, which are now joined by the Proposition 8 case. As SCOTUSblog reports, it is highly likely some of the cases petitioned will be granted arguments by the Supreme Court.

A ruling on any of the cases would likely come before June 2013 and be the first Supreme Court ruling on the right of same-sex couples to marry.