VT Freedom to Marry Joins Broad Coalition Filing Friend-of-the-Court Briefs in Support of Edie Windsor and Prop 8 Plaintiffs
With the Supreme Court set to hear arguments in two landmark marriage equality cases at the end of March, Vermont Freedom to Marry is pleased and proud to be part of the broad and historic coalition of marriage equality advocates urging the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and affirm the court rulings that found California’s Proposition 8 unconstitutional.
Last week, with the future of marriage equality at stake, public and private groups filed dozens of friend-of-the-court (amicus) briefs. Marriage equality organizations, civil rights groups, religious and military leaders, members of Congress, medical and mental health organizations, leading corporations, experts in family and child welfare law, states with marriage equality (including Vermont), and the Obama administration filed amicus briefs in the Supreme Court. The amicus briefs support Edie Windsor, who is challenging DOMA in United States v. Windsor, and the plaintiffs in Hollingsworth v. Perry, who are challenging California’s Prop 8.
Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer were together for over 40 years and, after a decades-long engagement, were finally able to wed in 2007. When Thea died in 2009, Edie was forced to pay more than $360,000 in estate taxes simply because she was married to a woman. Because of DOMA, Edie and Thea are legal strangers in the eyes of the federal government. If Section 3 of DOMA is found unconstitutional, the federal government will have to recognize Edie and Thea’s marriage and the valid marriages of all same-sex couples, including many in Vermont.
Proposition 8, approved by California voters in 2008, stripped same-sex couples in that state of their existing right to marry and amended the California constitution to reflect an exclusionary definition of marriage. Prop 8 was found unconstitutional by the federal district court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals because it singles out gay and lesbian individuals for exclusion from civil marriage without a legitimate state interest. The plaintiffs in the case are loving, committed couples who, like committed same-sex couples across the U.S., simply want an equal right to marry.
VFM amicus brief for Edie Windsor
In the amicus brief filed in Edie Windsor’s case, Vermont Freedom to Marry joined a coalition of state equality groups to argue that Section 3 of DOMA causes harm to married same-sex couples by denying them the more than 1,000 federal rights and benefits available to opposite-sex couples.
Mary Bonauto, civil rights project director at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), who coordinated the amicus effort in the Windsor case, said:
The fact that such a wide-range of individuals and organizations are supporting Edie based on their experience and expertise shows that there is no defensible argument for DOMA. It is critical that so many groups stand with Edie in bringing an end to this discriminatory law that hurts so many legally married same-sex couples.
VFM amicus brief for Hollingsworth and repealing Prop 8
In Hollingsworth v. Perry, Vermont Freedom to Marry joined civil and human rights groups and legal service organizations to argue that discrimination based on sexual orientation warrants heightened scrutiny, meaning that the rationale for discriminating against gay people faces an extremely high standard -- one which Proposition 8 fails to meet.
To learn about the parties filing briefs in support of the Prop 8 plaintiffs, visit AFER.
President Obama files briefs for equality
The Obama administration also weighed in on both the DOMA and Prop 8 cases.
In United States v. Windsor the administration argues:
Section 3 of DOMA violates the fundamental constitutional guarantee of equal protection. The law denies to tens of thousands of same-sex couples who are legally married under state law an array of important federal benefits that are available to legally married opposite-sex couples. Because this discrimination cannot be justified as substantially furthering any important governmental interest, Section 3 is unconstitutional.
Read the whole brief here.
Likewise, the administration, in a brief filed on February 28th, urged the Supreme Court to find Proposition 8 unconstitutional, strongly arguing the amendment should be subject to heightened scrutiny and that, by that standard, denying the plaintiffs the right to marry violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause.
Attorney General Eric Holder stated:
In our filing today in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the government seeks to vindicate the defining constitutional ideal of equal treatment under the law. Throughout history, we have seen the unjust consequences of decisions and policies rooted in discrimination. The issues before the Supreme Court in this case and the Defense of Marriage Act case are not just important to the tens of thousands Americans who are being denied equal benefits and rights under our laws, but to our Nation as a whole.
The Obama administration’s brief addressed only the specifics of the Prop 8 case. It did not explicitly argue that the Constitution requires all states to allow same-sex couples to marry. It did, however, imply that excluding same-sex couples from marriage in the seven states besides California (Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, and Rhode Island) where civil unions or domestic partnerships provide rights similar to marriage would violate “the constitutional ideal that ‘all persons similarly situated should be treated alike.’”
Read the whole brief here.
Theodore Boutrous, an attorney for the Prop 8 plaintiffs, said that if the Supreme Court agrees that heightened scrutiny applies, it “is a clear path to marriage equality across the United States, because marriage bans in other states cannot satisfy that standard, either.”
With the encouragement of this broad coalition powerfully making the case that both DOMA and Prop 8 must go, and with a majority of Americans now supporting the repeal of DOMA and the freedom to marry, we look forward to arguments before the Supreme Court on March 26 and 27, and are hopeful that the Court will rule that lesbian and gay couples are first-class citizens entitled to equal treatment under the law.