It really does get better — and better, and better — for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans.
This past June, the Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), resulting in more-equal treatment of gay and lesbian couples for purposes of federal benefits. Around the country, 15 states and the District of Columbia now issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which bans workplace discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, is closer than ever to passage, having already made it through the Senate by a comfortable margin (64-32, reflecting bipartisan support).
Meanwhile, in the private sector, employers are becoming more and more welcoming of LGBT individuals. That’s the top-line finding of the Human Rights Campaign’s latest Corporate Equality Index — in which law firms are particularly well-represented….
At the end of August, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled in Elane Photography v. Willock that a Christian wedding photographer violated the New Mexico Human Rights Act (NMHRA) when it refused to photograph a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony. (New Mexico does not currently permit same-sex marriage, though all the parties and the court frequently refer to the ceremony as a wedding.) This week, one of the parties in a similar controversy in Oregon, Sweet Cakes Bakery, announced that it would be closing shop, citing its opposition to baking wedding cakes for same-sex couples.
Elane Photography argued that it did not violate the NMHRA but, if it did, this application of the law violated the photography business’s Free Speech and Free Exercise rights under the First Amendment. The court disagreed, writing that “when Elane Photography refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony, it violated the NMHRA in the same way as if it had refused to photograph a wedding between people of different races.”
Personally, I’d vote for same-sex marriage if I lived in a state considering such laws. Polygamy too, for that matter. If you are listening for a full-throated defense of traditional, heterosexual marriage to the exclusion of state recognition of any other arrangement, you won’t hear it here. I’m inclined to support religious understandings of traditional marriage, but I’m libertarian enough to let everyone — straight, gay, or otherwise — suffer through the headaches of having the government divide your assets when you get divorced.
Still, using anti-discrimination laws to mandate that all businesses operating as public accommodations provide services to same-sex couples’ weddings sounds like an unnecessary imposition on the sincere religious beliefs of others — and a great way to end up with lousy wedding photos….
Have you ever wondered how nerdy libertarian types get married? (No? Just us?) Depending on your jurisprudential leanings, you’ll be either moved, amused, or emotionally scarred by this wedding ceremony, which took place on the roof of the Cato Institute earlier this summer. Here’s the video. It gets a little weird when the groom whips out his pocket Constitution — he calls it “my Bible” — and vows to “faithfully execute the office of your husband.” (But keep watching for the bride’s vows, which are sweet and heartfelt.)
Another fun (non-lawyer) wedding write-up is this one, featuring the great-granddaughter of Maria and Captain Georg von Trapp, of The Sound of Music fame.
And now for our latest legal-eagle newlywed contestants:
Or at least his laptop. After a conservative state court judge in Kentucky wrote an op-ed for the local paper arguing that the Supreme Court’s recent rulings on gay marriage didn’t affect the definition of marriage under Kentucky law, a retired federal judge called him on the carpet.
* The number of women arguing before the Supreme Court is still small, but most of its appellate practitioners follow sage advice like this: “Clerk, work, and don’t be a jerk.” [National Law Journal]
* If you were curious about whether gays and lesbians could be excluded from juries on the basis of their sexual orientation, the Ninth Circuit is about to lay down the law. [New York Times]
* Now that the Supreme Court has ruled in Windsor, Cozen O’Connor will be forced to give a deceased partner’s profit-sharing benefits to her wife, and not her parents. [Legal Intelligencer]
* Who are Biglaw’s top innovators of the last 50 years? There are many familiar names, but one of them is near and dear to our own hearts at Above the Law: It’s our managing editor, David Lat. Congratulations! [Am Law Daily]
* If you’re making a career change to go to law school, you should think about why the the hell you’d do such a thing right now — or try to leverage it in applications. [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News]
* In a surprise move, Wendi Murdoch, better known as Rupert Murdoch’s soon-to-be ex-wife, has hired William Zabel to represent her in the divorce. This is going to get very, very messy. [New York Times]
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court issued two eagerly anticipated rulings in major gay marriage cases. In United States v. Windsor, the challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, the Court struck down Section 3 of DOMA. In Hollingsworth v. Perry, the challenge to California’s Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage, the Court held that the petitioners lacked standing to appeal, vacated the decision of the Ninth Circuit, and remanded with instructions to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. This left the district court’s ruling intact and had the effect of allowing same-sex marriages to take place in California (although there’s some litigation winding its way through the courts on this matter).
Now that we have the decisions, let’s take a deeper dive into them. What do they reflect about the Court’s role in society? And what can we expect from future SCOTUS rulings in this area?
The front of the Supreme Court building: ‘Equal Justice Under Law.’ (Click to enlarge.)
The Supreme Court was called to order at 10:00 a.m. sharp. The Chief Justice announced, “Justice Kennedy has our first opinion of the day in case number 12-307, United States v. Windsor. Everyone, in the bar members section at least, knew that this was the Defense of Marriage Act case.
That Justice Kennedy was announcing the opinion was significant; he wrote Lawrence v. Texas. Still, no one knew if the Court would reach the merits, since the Solicitor General had announced that the Executive Branch would not defend the constitutionality of DOMA.
Justice Kennedy is an orderly man. He set out the procedural background – Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer were married legally in Canada, then came home to New York. Their same-sex marriage is lawful where it was performed and where they lived. Spyer died and left her estate to Windsor. Windsor sought to claim an estate tax exemption for the death of a spouse. DOMA prevented the IRS from recognizing Spyer as Windsor’s spouse. Windsor paid the tax, then challenged DOMA. She won in the district court and the Second Circuit. Justice Kennedy explained how a bipartisan committee found counsel to defend DOMA, and how DOMA was defended ably in the Supreme Court.
(As an aside, Paul Clement took heat for defending DOMA for Congress. When you think about it, if he hadn’t defended it well, the Supreme Court may not have thought it could reach the issue. Paul Clement may be the unsung hero of the DOMA decision.)
So, Kennedy concluded, the Court could reach the merits of whether DOMA is constitutional.
Though a hopeful sign for those who would cheer the demise of DOMA, the decision wasn’t entirely clear….
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The holiday season is upon us, and yet again, you have no idea what to get for the fickle lawyer in your life. We’re here to help. Even if your bonus check hasn’t arrived yet, any one of the gifts we’ve highlighted here could be a worthy substitute until your employer decides to make it rain.
We’ve got an eclectic selection for you to choose from, so settle in by that stack of documents yet to be reviewed and dig in…
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