Tagged: marriage equality

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New Jersey Marriage Equality Part II: When Lewis Met Windsor

United States v. Windsor, – U.S. –, 133 S.Ct. 2675 (2013), invalidated the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) on somewhat murky constitutional grounds. It also provided the catalyst for this month’s move to marriage equality under state constitutional law in New Jersey. But it did so in a most curious way.

In Lewis v. Harris, 908 A.2d 196 (N.J. 2006), a unanimous New Jersey Supreme Court had held that same-sex couples could not be denied the equal rights and benefits guaranteed by the New Jersey constitution. However, a four-person majority in Lewis demurred as to whether the state had to allow same-sex couples to marry, allowing the legislature instead to choose to create a new status that would provide the same rights and benefits as marriage, but with a different name. In short order the legislature enacted a Civil Union Act, which became effective in 2007.

From the outset, it was clear to marriage equality advocates that that civil union would not and could not convey the equal rights and benefits that Lewis v. Harris mandated. The New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission held hearings and made extensive findings to that effect, unanimously. But how to persuade either the courts or the legislature to make the move all the way to marriage equality? Both legislative and judicial mechanisms were deployed. As to litigation, there was an initial attempt in 2010 to return the matter directly to the New Jersey Supreme Court, by way of a motion in aid of litigant’s rights filed in Lewis v. Harris. It failed because the court determined, on a 3-3 vote, that an evidentiary record was necessary. 202 N.J. 340 (2010). It is this evidentiary trial process that Windsor short-circuited. 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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Neutering Parents: Parents’ Sexual Liberty and Marriage

Recent reports of a Texas state court order requiring a divorced custodial mother’s cohabiting female partner to stay away between 9 pm and 7 am while the children were in the home brings to mind the continued discrimination against same-sex couples and same-sex couples with children through custody law, despite major strides on the marriage access front.  In my 2012 article The Neutered Parent, I explore the ways in which custody law has historically been used to enforce norms of sexuality against women and sexual minorities, particularly to discipline sexuality into a marital framework.  The problem with this judicial action, of course, is that same-sex couples may not marry in Texas.  The wider availability of marriage, however, would not necessarily diminish the assumption inherent in such “morality clauses,” that parental sexuality is best pursued in a marital context.  Broader access to marriage/marriage rights, including as conferred by the federal government following Windsor, should prompt us to consider with greater attention the rights of parents outside of the marital sphere.  Analysis of the latest Census data highlights the class-based disparities in who gets married and who doesn’t.  Nonmarital parents constitute a significant and growing percentage of parents.  These reports raise the question of how custody law should address such realities of contemporary family life.  Is the answer to bring more parents into the marital fold?  The Texas case suggests continued reliance on heterosexual, marriage-based norms of parental sexuality.  As I discuss in The Neutered Parent, the ALI’s 2002 amendments to custody provisions pertaining to parental sexuality fail to foreclose the types of thinking that animate discriminatory custody decisions.  While the ALI suggests focusing on parental “conduct,” rather than relying on biased assumptions about how parental sexuality and nonmarital sexuality pertain to children’s best interests, the ALI might provide more explicit criteria for what qualifies as relevant conduct.  Without such clarification, actions that might not read as “sexual conduct” in a marital setting, like a parent’s private consumption of pornographic material, might look like evidence of relevant conduct in a nonmarital setting.  This is because of what I describe in The Neutered Parent as the perceived “sexual salience” of nonmarital parents in judicial determinations of custody.  Greater clarity regarding relevant parent conduct can better serve sexual liberty interests as promised by Lawrence v. Texas.

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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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Lewis v. Harris II — “civil union” versus “marriage”, one more time

Last month, on behalf of several same-sex couples, Lambda Legal filed a “Petition in Aid of Litigants’ Rights”  with the New Jersey Supreme Court, asking for further relief in Lewis v. Harris, 908 A.2d 196 (N.J. 2006).    The petition argues that the state’s Civil Union Law, created in 2006,  has utterly failed to create the constitutionally required equality for same-sex couples.  It requests the court to revisit the matter forthwith and order the state to recognize marriage for same-sex couples.

In 2006 in Lewis v.  Harris, the court held 7 – 0  that New Jersey’s constitution as a matter of equal protection (although not as a fundamental right) required the state to provide all the rights and benefits of marriage to committed same-sex couples, and also some kind of full legal recognition — the already-existing “domestic partnership” regime, with its limited benefits and different structure, was constitutionally insufficient.  But the court split 4 – 3 on whether to require the legislature to include same-sex couples within the legal definition of marriage, or to permit the legislature in its discretion instead to create a new legal institution for same-sex couples.  The legislature (very quickly) chose the latter course, enacting New Jersey’s Civil Union Law.

Three years later, the March 2010 pleading challenges that law as constitutionally inadequate.  It argues that the separate institution of civil union does not convey to same-sex couples and their families the important though intangible status of marriage, and that the separate-but-equal approach stigmatizes them in an ongoing way; that same-sex couples and their families must expend considerable effort and suffer considerable embarrassment claiming the equal rights that “civil union” is supposed to provide; and that in daily encounters, failures of others to recognize “civil union”, whether inadvertent or deliberate and feigned, regularly result in not being accorded rights and benefits equivalent to those of different-sex married couples, the goal that civil union is required to achieve.

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