Wednesday, March 12, 2014
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON – The Obama administration told the Supreme Court on Thursday that California's ban on same-sex marriage violates the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection, a position that could also cast doubt on prohibitions in other states.
This Sept. 6, 2011 file photo shows a man walking past a group of people protesting against gay marriage outside a courtroom where the California Supreme Court was hearing arguments in San Francisco. The Obama administration on Thursday will ask the Supreme Court to overturn California's ban on gay marriage and take a skeptical view of similar bans. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)
In his inaugural address, the president said the nation's journey "is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law."
MAINE JOINS EFFORT
The state of Maine has signed on to support two, separate friend-of-the-court briefs that urge the U.S. Supreme Court to stike down laws that discriminate against same-sex couples.
Maine Attorney General Janet T. Mills announced Thursday that she has filed an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to declare California's Proposition 8 unconstitutional.
The brief, endorsed by 13 states, argues that Proposition 8 harms families by denying them legal and social benefits.
Mills said she will file a second amicus brief Friday that urges the Supreme Court to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
"Equal protection under the law is the bedrock on which America's legal foundation is built," Mills said. "I am troubled by the notion that a state might declare that one group of Americans can be accorded the benefits of civil marriage, but another group of Americans is not."
In November, Maine became the first state in the nation to approve gay marriage at the ballot box. Eight other states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage.
– From staff reports
The administration did not endorse a constitutional right to marry that would apply nationwide. But its friend-of-the-court brief, a bold declaration of the administration's interest in gay rights, said the court should review laws banning same-sex marriage under "heightened scrutiny."
The administration's entry for the first time into the legal battle over Proposition 8 -- a voter initiative that amended the California State Constitution in 2008 to limit marriage to a man and a woman -- also carried great symbolic value for those advancing the cause of marriage equality.
The Obama administration did not have to file a brief in the California case but said the question of how the court reviews laws that "target gay and lesbian people for discriminatory treatment" is of great interest to the government.
In California's case, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. wrote, the state offers same-sex couples domestic partnerships but withholds marriage.
"California's extension of all of the substantive rights and responsibilities of marriage to gay and lesbian domestic partners particularly undermines the justifications for Proposition 8," the brief says. "It indicates that Proposition 8's withholding of the designation of marriage is not based on an interest in promoting responsible procreation and child-rearing -- petitioners' central claimed justification for the initiative -- but instead on impermissible prejudice."
The government's brief noted that seven other states have similar domestic partnership laws: Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Rhode Island. But it did not call for the court to overturn those laws.
In some ways, the brief marks a compromise between threatening the prohibitions on same-sex marriage that the vast majority of states have enacted and nudging along the number of states that allow such unions.
The administration has been under pressure from gay rights groups and others to enter the Prop. 8 case, especially after President Obama's inaugural address, in which he said, "If we are truly created equal, than surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well."
Adam Umhoefer, executive director of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, called the brief "a powerful statement that Proposition 8 cannot be squared with the principles of equality upon which this nation was founded."
"It is an unprecedented call to action by our government that it is time to recognize gay and lesbian Americans as full and equal citizens under the law," he said.
Thomas Peters, communications director of the National Organization for Marriage and a supporter of Proposition 8, said his group "expects the Supreme Court to exonerate the votes of over 7 million Californians to protect marriage."
"The President is clearly fulfilling a campaign promise to wealthy gay marriage donors," Peters said in a statement. "There is no right to redefine marriage in our Constitution."
The Supreme Court at the end of the month will consider two cases concerning same-sex marriage.
One addresses the Defense of Marriage Act, which restricts the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in those states where such unions are legal. The administration for two years has said that is unconstitutional, and a string of lower court decisions have agreed.
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