2K10: A Breakthrough Year, or More of the Same?
Hello, everyone! I have missed you all, and must convey my apologies for our seeming abandonment of this blog. We are still here, still watching the world of marriage (and other LGBT) equality.
We’ve taken the holiday season to reinvest in our lives at home in Seattle. We’ve seen friends, put up and taken down a Christmas tree, rearranged our house for a crawling–and now cruising–Frances, found work (Ami) and pursued employment diligently (me). We still have a trailer parked in our driveway, which I’m sure the neighbors celebrate. We still own a V-8 Jeep, not the ideal commuter car. But our darling puppy, Esmerelda, put her unique mark on our vehicle by chewing through the back seat upholstery and severing the wires to the rear window defroster coils. How to sell such a vehicle? We are still working on that dilemma.
This year could be historic for marriage equality. I have been following the Prop 8 trial on the Courage Campaign’s Prop 8 Trial Tracker (in-depth and immediate coverage) and at Pam’s House Blend (summary coverage). So far only the plaintiff’s (our side’s) witnesses have been called, and so far it’s going well. When I say going well, I mean that our witnesses have made a very good case for why the plaintiff’s constitutional rights have been violated and have not faltered from their positions on cross-examination.
I’ve done some research as to what will happen if Judge Walker, the federal judge on the case, decides in favor of the plaintiff. It will undoubtedly be appealed, in which case it will go to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. When that case is decided, in all likelihood the loser will appeal to the Supreme Court. (Strangely, I had a hard time finding out how many levels there were between this court and the Supreme Court. If my information is faulty, lease let me know so I may correct the information.)
Central to this case are the possible categorization of gays and lesbians as a “suspect class” and the violation of our “fundamental rights.” I didn’t know what these legal terms meant before this trial, so bear with me while I display my legal non-expertise in describing them. In the interest of (vain hope of?) concision, I will describe suspect class today and fundamental rights next time.
Interestingly, the idea of a suspect class originated from a discriminatory ruling on the part of the Supreme Court in 1944, Korematsu v. the United States. Ironically speaking for the majority, which upheld the legality of the internment of Japanese immigrants on the West Coast, Justice Hugo Black wrote:
all legal restrictions which curtail the Civil Rights of a single group are immediately suspect. That is not to say that all such restrictions are unconstitutional. It is to say that courts must subject them to the most rigid scrutiny. Pressing public necessity may sometimes justify the existence of such restrictions; racial antagonism never can.
This ruling created the concept of the suspect class and of strict scrutiny. It relates specifically to the interpretation by the courts of matters related to the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. This clause of this amendment is the one that is violated by Proposition 8:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. [Emphasis mine.]
There are three levels of scrutiny that can be applied to reviewing laws that may or may not violate the Fourteenth Amendment; strict is the highest. When strict scrutiny is applied, the law is assumed to be unconstitutional, and the court must prove the law is constitutional in order for the law to be upheld. To be constitutional in this circumstance, the law must be necessary to achieve a compelling state interest, and the law must be narrowly written so as to only achieve this result. So far strict scrutiny has only been used to interpret cases concerning discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, alienage, the rights to travel and vote, and the right to privacy.
Contrast this with the lowest form of scrutiny, the rational basis test, in which it must be proven that the legislature made an arbitrary or irrational decision in forming the law in question. This is the default basis for deciding if a law is constitutional. Between the two is the intermediate level of scrutiny, which is used for the “quasi-suspect” class (essentially women), and for questions of legitimacy.
There are four indications for determining a group a suspect class. The state supreme courts in Iowa, Connecticut, and California have found gays and lesbians to be a suspect class. The quasi-suspect class fulfills some, but not all, of these qualifications.
- The group must have a history of purposeful discrimination
- They must be politically powerless
- The trait the class shares must be immutable
- The group must be a discrete and insular minority; i.e. that group is distinct from other groups and the rest of society
Still with me? I know, that was a lot. But it’s all at least marginally interesting in relationship to this case (to me, anyway). There’s an analysis of whether gays and lesbians can be a suspect class at the Prop 8 Trial Tracker.
And here’s some irony: After calling us child molesters, stating that just knowing we get married is something children need protection from, accusing us of taking down the institution of marriage just by joining it, lying to voters that their churches would lose their tax exemptions if we are allowed to get married, and implying that the claim that the best situation for a child is parents who are one male and one female is valid, now the Prop 8 side’s argument is that we are accepted members of society, not in any way a suspect class. How absurd is that? Prior to this we were like pedophiles and bigamists, the lowest of the low. Now we’re just like anyone else, and certainly deserving of no special consideration because of a history of discrimination.
Sometimes I just can’t handle the hypocrisy.