Archive | Gay Rights

NYT Sunday Book Review of “Flagrant Conduct”

In today’s Times Book Review section, Pulitzer-Prize-winning historian David Oshinsky reviews my new book, Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas.  I promise not to make a habit of posting these notices, but I’m quite honored by his review, as I have been by several other recent reactions to the book. […]

Continue Reading 0

My Upcoming Appearance on the Bob Zadek Show, Discussing the Gay Marriage Litigation

Tommorrow from noon to 1 PM Pacific time (3-4 Eastern), I will be appearing on Bob Zadek’s talk radio show in San Francisco to talk about the gay marriage litigation and other related issues. Zadek is a libertarian political commentator and lawyer who hosts a weekly talk show devoted to various political and legal issues. Details on how to listen and call in are available here, including a way to listen through the internet if you are in the San Francisco area.

For my argument that bans on gay marriage are constitutionally suspect because they discriminate on the basis of sex, see here and here. In this series of posts from 2008-09, I explained why gay marriage lawsuits (at least at the state level) have been a net plus for the cause of gay rights, despite the political backlash that they generated.

We will likely discuss both questions during the show, as well as others, such as whether or not government should be involved in the business of defining marriage at all. […]

Continue Reading 0

Review of Flagrant Conduct in the New York Review of Books

Georgetown Law Professor David Cole has a terrific review of my new book, Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas (Norton) in the April 5 issue of the NYRB. Cole presents the basic background, including what likely happened the night John Lawrence and Tyron Garner were arrested for the crime of “Homosexual Conduct,” a Texas law that forbade oral and anal sex for same-sex couples but not for opposite-sex couples. A similar Georgia law had been upheld in Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), which the Lawrence Court reversed.  Cole notes that it was unusual enough for the Court to recognize its own error:

But for it to happen in a mere seventeen years, the equivalent of a nanosecond in the “Jarndyce and Jarndyce” tempo of constitutional law, is nothing short of extraordinary. The story of how it happened is one of the great success stories of public interest law. It shows what a carefully orchestrated litigation campaign can do when supported by a passionate and growing social movement. At the same time, it offers a cautionary tale for the current controversy over the recognition of same-sex marriage, which may soon be headed, prematurely, to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas devoted a scant paragraph to an anodyne description of the facts of the case, barely mentioned the defendants, and described their alleged conduct only as “a sexual act.” The Court was evidently more at ease with the nuances of constitutional jurisprudence than with the messy details of the case. Dale Carpenter’s Flagrant Conduct fills in the gaps, and provides a rich, meticulous, and fascinating account of the most important constitutional decision so far on the status of gays and lesbians in American society.

Unlike the Court, Carpenter revels in the factual details and the


Continue Reading 0

Heather Gerken’s Progressive Defense of Federalism

Yale Law Professor Heather Gerken, a prominent federalism scholar, has an interesting article in Democracy urging her fellow liberals to take a more favorable view of federalism:

Progressives are deeply skeptical of federalism, and with good reason. States’ rights have been invoked to defend some of the most despicable institutions in American history, most notably slavery and Jim Crow. Many think “federalism” is just a code word for letting racists be racist. Progressives also associate federalism—and its less prominent companion, localism, which simply means decentralization within a state—with parochialism and the suppression of dissent. They thus look to national power, particularly the First and Fourteenth Amendments, to protect racial minorities and dissenters from threats posed at the local level.

But it is a mistake to equate federalism’s past with its future. State and local governments have become sites of empowerment for racial minorities and dissenters, the groups that progressives believe have the most to fear from decentralization. In fact, racial minorities and dissenters can wield more electoral power at the local level than they do at the national. And while minorities cannot dictate policy outcomes at the national level, they can rule at the state and local level. Racial minorities and dissenters are using that electoral muscle to protect themselves from marginalization and promote their own agendas.

Much of Gerken’s argument is based on the simple but important point that groups that are relatively weak minorities at the national level often wield greater influence in state and local governments where they are a much higher proportion of the population. In these situations, political decentralization benefits minorities by shifting power to the level of government where they have more political clout.

This will not come as news to students of federalism in countries outside the US. Many federal systems were established […]

Continue Reading 0

Speaking Engagements for Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas

Over the next couple of months I will be on an active speaking tour for my new book, Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas, which has just been published by W.W. Norton & Co

Of perhaps greatest interest to readers of this blog are a couple of events coming up soon.  This Friday, March 16, I’ll be in Washington speaking at lunchtime at the Cato Institute, with commentary by Washington Post editor Charles Lane, and moderated by Cato’s David Boaz.   The following Thursday evening , March 22, I’ll be in New York speaking at the Institute for American Values, hosted by Elizabeth Marquardt, Director of the Center for Marriage and Families.

Both events are open to the public and free of charge, but require pre-registration at the links above. […]

Continue Reading 0

Viewpoint Discrimination in K-12 School Library Filtering

As I’ve said before, the Supreme Court has never decided whether K-12 schools may remove books from school libraries based on their viewpoints, or may filter out Web sites based on their viewpoints. The Court’s cases dealing with this question, Board of Ed. v. Pico and U.S. v. American Library Ass’n were badly splintered and provided basically no majority on the subject.

Pico, for instance, split 4-4 on the book removal issue, with the deciding vote (Justice White) expressing no opinion and sending the case down for more factfinding. (“The plurality seems compelled to go further and issue a dissertation on the extent to which the First Amendment limits the discretion of the school board to remove books from the school library. I see no necessity for doing so at this point. When findings of fact and conclusions of law are made by the District Court, that may end the case.”) Likewise, ALA yielded no useful conclusion.

This makes yesterday’s Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays, Inc. (PFLAG) v. Camdenton R-III School Dist. (C.D. Mo. Jan. 15, 2012) especially interesting: The court issued a preliminary injunction against a school district’s use of a filter that apparently generally filtered out pro-homosexuality sites — including ones that weren’t sexually explicited — but not anti-homosexuality sites. (“URL Blacklist systematically allows access to websites expressing a negative viewpoint toward LGBT individuals by categorizing them as ‘religion’, but filters out positive viewpoints toward LGBT issues by categorizing them as ‘sexuality’.”) The court held that government’s continued use of this filter, especially given the availability of other filters that did better both at blocking outright porn and at not blocking commentary on homosexualiy, was likely viewpoint discriminatory and therefore unconstitutional, which led it to issue a preliminary injunction. The standard for issuing […]

Continue Reading 31

More on Gay Marriage Bans and Judicial Minimalism

In a thoughtful recent post, co-blogger Dale Carpenter takes issue with my argument that bans on same-sex marriage are best attacked on the grounds that they are unconstitutional sex discrimination, and parts of my post suggesting that a minimalist strategy in the gay marriage litigation is not likely to work. Dale is one of the leading academic experts on the law of same-sex marriage, so I take his points very seriously. Nonetheless, I remain unrepentant.

Dale argues that the sex discrimination argument is flawed because “(1) it obscures the heart of the equal protection issue, continuing exclusion of gay men and lesbians, and (2) it isn’t sufficiently attuned to the Court’s sex-discrimination cases, which do suggest a lower level of scrutiny when legislation addresses ‘real differences’ between men and women (like the capacity to get pregnant or, one might say in the marriage context, the capacity to procreate as a couple).” On the first point, I think this “obscurity” is part of the strength of the argument. The idea that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation should be subject to strong judicial scrutiny has no roots in the original meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment and only a modest basis in recent precedent (Romer v. Evans). By contrast, sex discrimination has long been subject to heightened scrutiny, and, as I noted in my first post on the subject, there is growing recognition that this is consistent with the original meaning. Most important, as I explained in some detail in the earlier post, laws banning same-sex marriage do not in fact ban anyone from marrying anyone else because of their sexual orientation. Anne is free to marry Bob even if one of them is gay or lesbian. On the other hand, these laws do restrict marriage rights on […]

Continue Reading 170

Sex Discrimination and Tradition

In a recent post, co-blogger David Bernstein partially rejects my argument that a ban on same-sex marriage qualifies as sex discrimination. As David puts it:

On the one hand, I agree with Ilya that bans on same-sex marriage could be described as sex discrimination. On the other hand, from opponents’ perspective, the point is that “marriage” has been defined for several thousand years in Judeo-Christian culture as between a man and a woman, and retaining that definition is not sex discrimination.

The opponents’ argument, however, in no way refutes mine. Many forms of sex discrimination have “several thousand years” of tradition behind them, often backed by religion. Consider such cases as the exclusion of women from many professions, unequal divorce laws, the treatment of wives and daughters as the property of their husbands and fathers, and so on. The fact that a form of sex discrimination has existed for a long time and enjoys religious backing does not make it any less discriminatory.

I am also unmoved by David’s analogy between a ban on same-sex marriage and a hypothetical Israeli law under which boys are entitled to a state-recognized “bar mitzvah,” while girls only get a “bat mitzvah,” which has the same legal status but is less prestigious. If the bar/bat mitvah were a government-endorsed legal status rather than a private cultural and religious tradition, it would still be sex discrimination for the state to allocate that status on the basis of gender – especially if one of the two labels were in fact more prestigious than the other. I would say much the same thing about David’s hypothetical of a female monarch who wishes to be labeled a “king” rather than a “queen.” These examples only have intuitive appeal because in modern liberal society, we generally regard bar […]

Continue Reading 362

On Same Sex Marriage and “Sex Discrimination”

On the one hand, I agree with Ilya that bans on same-sex marriage could be described as sex discrimination.  On the other hand, from opponents’ perspective, the point is that “marriage” has been defined for several thousand years in Judeo-Christian culture as between a man and a woman, and retaining that definition is not sex discrimination.

Imagine, for example, that having a bar mitzvah in Israel provided boys with various and important rights and obligations.   [Let me tighten the hypothetical a bit.] Imagine that in Israel, any thirteen year old Jewish boy could go to city hall and get a certificate of bar mitzvah, regardless of whether he had a religious bar mitzvah ceremony, and imagine further that this certificate provides the boys who get it with various important rights and privileges. Israel, recognizing that girls should be entitled to analogous rights, offers girls a [certificate of] bat mitzvah instead.  The bat mitzvah gives girls the same legal rights and obligations as boys, but because it’s not called a bar mitzvah, it’s less culturally significant and, according to critics bespeaks inequality (and in fact, while bar and bat mitzvahs don’t confer legal rights and obligations in Israel, it’s an important religious and cultural tradition. Girls don’t always get a bat mitzvah, and when they do, it’s rarely celebrated with the same vigor or considered as significant as a bar mitzvah in the same family).

A girl sues, demanding that she be entitled to a legally recognized “bar mitzvah.”  On the one hand, Ilya could rightly claim that by definition, denying her access to the status of “bar mitzvah” is sex discrimination.  On the other hand, defenders of limiting legally recognized bar mitzvahs to boys would rejoin that bar mitzvahs by definition, backed by hundreds of years of tradition and culture, […]

Continue Reading 223

Judicial Minimalism and Same-Sex Marriage

Co-blogger Dale Carpenter argues that Judge Stephen Reinhardt’s recent decision striking down the California gay marriage ban is an attempt at “judicial minimalism” intended to make the outcome acceptable to a Supreme Court that is unlikely to rule that the Constitution requires nation-wide recognition of same-sex marriage. By “lowering the stakes,” Dale argues, Reinhardt gives the Court a way to affirm his ruling.

This may well be Reinhardt’s intention. But I am skeptical that it will work. Whatever one thinks of judicial minimalism generally, there is no minimalist way to strike down Proposition 8. Even if the impact of such a decision were limited to California, that in itself is a huge step. California is a state with some 37 million people. Moreover, the logic of Reinhardt’s decision is that there is no “rational basis” for denying same-sex marriage in a state that already permits same-sex civil unions that give couples the same substantive rights as marriage would. In addition to California, there are seven other states that permit civil unions without legalizing same-sex marriage, including major states such as Hawaii, Illinois, and New Jersey. Many other states are likely to enact civil unions over the next few years, because the idea is very popular, with even a plurality of Republicans supporting it, as of 2010. If the Supreme Court embraces Reinhardt’s reasoning, a state that enacts a civil union law would have to embrace gay marriage as well. That’s not a minimalist result confined to one or a few states, and the Supreme Court justices are likely to realize that.

On the other hand, Dale is probably right to argue that the Supreme Court is not going to rule that the Constitution requires recognition of same-sex marriage at a time when 44 states still forbid […]

Continue Reading 157

Why Same-Sex Marriage Bans Qualify as Sex Discrimination

Today’s Ninth Circuit decision striking down California’s Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage is unpersuasive because it claims that the law fails to meet even minimal “rational basis” scrutiny. Eugene Volokh does a good job of explaining why. But there is an alternative constitutional rationale for striking down same-sex marriage bans that avoids this problem. Proposition 8 is an example of sex discrimination, and must be evaluated under the higher standards of scrutiny applied to gender discrimination by the Supreme Court.

Although the sex discrimination argument has been advanced by several academic advocates of gay marriage, nonacademics tend to be skeptical because the same-sex marriage bans seem to be targeted against gays, not men or women. Hostility towards gays is certainly part of the motivation for bans on same-sex marriage. But that does not prevent these laws from qualifying as sex discrimination. In terms of the way the law is actually structured, a same-sex marriage ban in fact discriminates on the basis of gender rather than orientation. And it is perfectly possible to discriminate on the basis of sex even if the motivation for doing so is something other than sexism.

Consider the hypothetical case of Anne, Bob, and Colin. If same-sex marriage is forbidden, Anne is allowed to marry Colin, but Bob cannot do so. This is so even if Anne and Bob are identical in every respect other than gender. Bob is denied the legal right to marry Colin (and all other men) solely because he is a man. Denial of a legal right solely on the basis of gender is the very essence of sex discrimination.

By contrast, sexual orientation actually has no effect on the way the law operates. Anne is still allowed to marry Colin, even if one of them happens to be gay or lesbian. […]

Continue Reading 439

Santorum the Sophist

Conor Friedersdorf has a pretty good take-down of Rick Santorum’s reasons for opposing same-sex marriage.  Friedersdorf evidently supports same-sex marriage for culturally conservative reasons (praising marriage and its value to families, wanting to preserve it).  Santorum’s argument against same-sex marriage, on the other hand, is little more than an assertion of authority and definition.  Santorum writes:

A husband is a man who commits to a woman, to her and any children she may give him. He commits to his wife without any reservations, to share with her all his worldly goods and to exclude all others from this intimate communion of life. From this vow of marriage comes a wonderful and unique good: any children their union creates will have a mom and a dad united in love, in one family.

Friedersdorf responds by pointing out the wide gap between these assertions about marriage and the actual practice and legal requirements of marriage:

That’s a vision of sacramental marriage, but it ain’t civil marriage in these United States. In civil marriage, prenuptial agreements are permitted, so the man hardly shares all his worldly goods, and plenty of people marry with reservations, and without violating the law when they do so. People write their own vows too. Sometimes they say them in Vulcan! Sometimes they don’t include sexual fidelity, and if they cheat or sleep around with or sans permission they are hardly compelled to divorce. The state keeps on viewing them as being married. Alternatively, it’ll permit them to divorce and marry other people, even if they have kids. So much for “one united family.”
He then notes that Santorum’s one consequential argument — about the importance of marriage to families raising children — actually supports legal protection for same-sex marriage.
“That’s the special work of marriage in law —


Continue Reading

Rick Santorum’s Army of Celibates

Since Rick Santorum’s unexpected success, his extreme social conservatism has gotten a lot of attention. In some cases, it goes beyond what even most conservative Republicans would be willing to support. My personal favorite extreme Santorum quote hasn’t yet gotten as much play as some of the others.

In a September GOP debate, Santorum responded to a question about his position on the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell by saying that “any type of sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military.” Perhaps Santorum merely meant that military personnel should not be having sex while on duty. But if that’s the case, no one disagrees with him, including supporters of the repeal of DADT. Getting rid of DADT doesn’t change regulations forbidding sexual behavior that interferes with the performance of duty. The more natural reading of Santorum’s quote is that military personnel should be forbidden to engage in “sexual activity” of any kind for as long as they are in the armed forces. If that’s the case, only celibates could serve in the military.

It’s possible that Santorum simply misspoke. But when the moderator asked him to explain his position further, he actually dug the hole deeper:

When moderator Megyn Kelly pressed him on what he would do as President, he fired back, “We are playing social experimentation with our military right now and that’s tragic…going forward we would reinstitute that policy if Rick Santorum was president, period.”

Santorum acknowledged that he couldn’t do much about those men and women currently serving in the military that have admitted to being gay, but concluded by saying, “Sex is not an issue, it should not be an issue, leave it alone and keep it to yourself whether you’re a homosexual or a heterosexual.”

In Santorum’s army, not only would […]

Continue Reading 172

Frank Kameny, R.I.P.

Frank Kameny, whose name was practically a synonym for pioneering gay civil-rights leadership, died today at his home in Washington, D.C., at the age of 86.  One news account summarized some of his work:

Kameny’s beginnings in advocacy work came after he was fired from his job as an astronomer for the Army Map Service in 1957. He challenged the firing, though, and took the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Although the court declined to hear the case, an activist was born.

Kameny went on to become one of the leading advocates for lesbian and gay equality in the years before — and since — Stonewall. In 1961, he co-founded the Mattachine Society of Washington. In 1965, he and others with the group famously picketed the White House in shirts and ties, sending a letter to the White House explaining their presence.

Kameny, along with Barbara Gittings, successfully worked with others to convince the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from its list of disorders in 1973. The next year, he and Gittings served as counsel to Otis Fancis Tabler, Jr., successfully keeping the Defense Department employee from having his security clearance revoked due to being gay.

He filed the first gay-rights brief in the Supreme Court, in his own federal discharge case, in 1961.  He lived to see not only the end of the ban on federal employment for gays and lesbians, but the decriminalization of private sexual acts between adults of the same sex, the demedicalization of homosexuality by the APA’s decision in 1973, the enactment of laws to protect people from discrimination in employment, housing, education, and medical care, the beginning of gay marriage, and recently the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  (He served in World War II.) A slogan, coined by […]

Continue Reading