Archive | Sexual Orientation

Brown v. Buhman and Bestiality

The Utah polygamy-rights decision is truly a courageous civil rights ruling. Most sexual liberties decisions going all the way back to Griswold v. Connecticut come at a time when the relevant practices have won very broad acceptance, especially among the educated elites. Not so with polygamy, which is quite far from the lives of the elites, and is opposed by a Baptists and bootleggers coalition of religious conservatives (bad for the “traditional family,” smacks of Mormonism) and secular liberals (bad for women, smacks of Mormonism). The judge will make few friends with his ruling. Editorialists will not liken it to great civil rights breakthroughs. It will surely be overturned, with conservative judges fearing an expansion of substantive due process, and liberal ones fearing a backlash. And that is what makes it brave, whether right or wrong.

Now seems like a good time to revisit a post on bestiality from earlier this year, which surely seems less radical now. Bestiality bans are [even?] less constitutionally defensible than polygamy bans because the purported harms associated with the practice are lower. It does not undermine families because it is not a substitute for traditional unions (though presumably limits one to unusually broad-minded spouses). Nor does it oppress women, the empirical claim behind bans on polygamy, as well as prostitution. Here is the body of the post:

Most states criminalize zoophilia and in many places the bans have been enacted quite recently. Moreover, the laws are from time to time enforced.

The 14th Amendment has been interpreted to recognize a broad and very valuable liberty interest in sexual autonomy. Constitutional doctrine regards private sexual choices as vastly more important than other kinds of choices, and thus presumptively protected. Homosexual conduct is just a hot-button particular instance of the general principle. Constitutional protection of [...]

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Brown v. Buhman isn’t so complicated

To me, today’s decision of the United States District Court for the District of Utah in Brown v. Buhman is much clearer and carefully-reasoned that Orin finds it to be. There may be plenty of blogging on the case, and Eugene’s analysis next week, after he’s had a chance to analyze it, will provide the perspective of the guy who actually did write the textbook on the First Amendment. I have merely taught the First Amendment, using his textbook (and taught the 14th Amendment using Randy’s textbook).

I’m no fan of the collected works of Edward Said, but I thought the Court’s use of Said entirely defensible. As the Court details, 19th-century hostility to polygamy was based, in part, on polygamy’s association with non-white races. As the U.S. Supreme Court wrote in Reynolds v. United States, “Polygamy has always been odious among the northern and western nations of Europe, and, until the establishment of the Mormon Church, was almost exclusively a feature of the life of Asiatic and of African people.” 98 U.S. 145, 164 (1879). Thus, Said’s theories of “Orientalism” and the “other” are useful tools for explaining the situation. The historical analysis is necessary to the case, because part of the Opinion requires an analysis of the 1894 “Irrevocable Ordinance” in the Utah Constitution outlawing polygamy. That constitutional provision was part of the price that Utah paid for admission to the Union.

Utah’s anti-bigamy ordinance has a normal provision, and an unusual provision: “A person is guilty of bigamy when, knowing he has a husband or wife or knowing the other person has a husband or wife, the person purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person.” Utah Code Ann. § 76-7-101(1) (2013).

Judge Waddoups upholds the first part, about marrying a second person, as [...]

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Response From Religious-Liberty Scholars Supporting a “Marriage Conscience” Exemption

Last week I wrote about the response of a group of us (Andy Koppelman, Doug NeJaime, Ira Lupu, William Marshall, and me) to calls for broad religious-liberty exemptions in laws authorizing same-sex marriage.  Specifically in the context of the proposed marriage bill in Illinois, which has since passed, we argued that the proposals from several religious-liberty scholars urged for several years now in state legislatures around the country are, in short, overblown and overdrawn.  It is the first time a group of scholars has formally and publicly responded to what some legislators might have thought was a solid scholarly consensus behind the idea that same-sex marriage creates a distinct crisis for religious liberty.

Several of the scholars favoring broad exemptions have now replied to our critcisms in the form of a blog post at Mirror of Justice, the Catholic legal blog, although the group is not limited to Catholic opponents of same-sex marriage.  The replying scholars are Tom Berg, Carl Esbeck, Edward Gaffney, Rick Garnett, Doug Laycock, Bruce Ledewitz, Christopher Lund, Michael Perry, and Robin Fretwell Wilson. Some of the differences between the two groups of scholars seem to involve a venue question of whether marriage laws — as opposed to antidiscrimination laws — are the appropriate place for clarifying existing religious-liberty protections.  Some of the differences are deeper, involving what should be recognized as an appropriate religious-conscience exemption from generally applicable antidiscrimination laws.  In any event, I recommend that readers interested in this dispute among legal scholars about religious liberty and same-sex marriage read this latest installment from those who favor broad exemptions. [...]

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Religious Liberty and SSM: A Response to Concerns in Illinois

The Illinois legislature is considering a bill that would extend marriage to same-sex couples. In response, a group of religious-liberty scholars have urged the governor and legislative leaders to include what they call a “marriage conscience protection” that would significantly expand the scope of religious exemptions already provided in the bill, and would insert additional substantive exemptions that would broadly expose married same-sex couples to discrimination in both the public and private spheres.  The letter objecting to the Illinois marriage bill follows very similar warnings about religious liberty that these same scholars have sent to many other states considering same-sex marriage legislation.  (See, for example, a link to some of their letters here.)

There has been significant debate about whether same-sex marriage actually generates additional problems for religious liberty, and about whether and to what extent gay-marriage bills should incorporate special protection for religious liberty.  (See, for example, my posts here, here, and here, and the excellent work of Doug NeJaime here.) But there has been no formal response by scholars to the call for broad exemptions in the context of a pending state same-sex marriage bill.  That may have given some legislators the mistaken impression that there is a scholarly consensus behind the specific concerns and broad carve-out proposals advanced by this particular group of religious-liberty scholars.

That starts to change as of today in Illinois.  Law school professors who support both protecting religious liberty and recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples have signed an open letter responding to the religious-liberty scholars’ concerns and their proposed “marriage conscience protection.”  The signers of the response are Andy Koppelman (Northwestern University), Doug NeJaime (University of California-Irvine), Ira Lupu (George Washington University), William P. Marshall (University of North Carolina), and me.  The letter was coordinated with the [...]

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DOMA and Dignity

Why is the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional?  Here are two propositions that United States v. Windsor might be thought to stand for:

(1) The federal government’s decision not to recognize state-sanctioned marriages of same-sex couples was an unconstitutional intrusion on federalism (a structural claim); or

(2) The federal government’s decision not to recognize state-sanctioned marriages of same-sex couples was an unconstitutional infringement on a substantive right, e.g., the right to marry (a liberty claim).

These are among the many plausible interpretations of Windsor, but some explanations are more plausible than others.  After consuming several pages discussing the interests of the states in controlling family law, Justice Kennedy expressly states that the Court is not relying strictly on federalism.  Surely a statement in a decision suggesting what it means should have some bearing on what it means.  The Chief Justice, in dissent, thinks federalism is nevertheless critical to the result and would help to distinguish the case from one that involved a claimed constitutional right to state recognition of same-sex marriages.  He might be right about that.  But the Chief Justice’s explanation may also be more a hope about the limited consequences of an alternative Windsor than a reading of the actual Windsor (see Justice Scalia’s dissent).

As for the second proposition, the Court certainly mentions liberty several times.  And the context is one in which the plaintiffs claim that “liberty” protects a right to have their marriages fully recognized by government.  The Court sets for itself the task of deciding “whether the resulting injury and indignity is a deprivation of the liberty protected by the Fifth Amendment.”  Slip op. at 19.  It concludes that Congress “cannot deny the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.”  Op. at 25.  But my sense is that reliance on [...]

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VA Must Extend Benefits to Married Same-Sex Couples, District Court Says

In the aftermath of United States v. Windsor, the Obama administration is adopting a generous position on the availability of federal benefits to married same-sex couples, as co-blogger Will Baude pointed out yesterday in a post on the IRS ruling regarding their federal tax status.  So far, in contrast to their almost open resistance to Lawrence v. Texas, lower federal courts are also reading the decision expansively.  Today, a district court in California granted summary judgment to a married lesbian veteran who was denied added disability benefits that would have been available if she had been married to a man, even though the denial did not rest on DOMA.  The brief opinion is here

The Department of Veterans Affairs had taken the position that Windsor struck down only DOMA, not the specific provision of federal law under which veterans’ benefits are determined and that independently defined a “spouse” as “a person of the opposite sex.”  38 U.S.C. Section 101 (c) .  The law stood, said the VA, until Congress changed it or a court struck it down as unconstitutional.  (The Bi-Partisan Legal Advisory Group withdrew its defense of litigation like this after Windsor.)

The district judge determined that, in light of Windsor, Title 38’s limitation of benefits to opposite-sex spouses was not rationally related to the federal government’s interests in promoting gender equality, expanding veterans’ benefits, ensuring that servicemembers reach their maximum potential, promoting unit readiness and cohesion, or enhancing recruiting and retention. 

Quite aside from its significance on the issue of same-sex marriage, one consequence of Windsor could be that federal courts are gradually accepting heightened scrutiny when it comes to discrimination against homosexuals.  A second possibility is that, apart from increased skepticism of anti-gay discrimination, Windsor will lead to a further erosion [...]

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Ninth Circuit Upholds “Gay Conversion” Ban

A unanimous panel of the Ninth Circuit has upheld California’s ban on efforts by licensed mental health professionals to change the sexual orientation of minors, a practice often called gay conversion therapy because it’s sought by parents anxious to make their gay kids straight.  The opinion in Pickup v. Brown was written by Judge Susan Graber and joined by Judge Morgan Christen and Judge Alex Kozinski.  The court rejected a range of constitutional arguments grounded in professionals’ and patients’ speech rights, the freedom of association, and parents’ fundamental right to determine the upbringing of their children.  From the summary prepared by court personnel:

The panel held that Senate Bill 1172 regulates professional conduct, not speech and therefore was subject only to a rational basis review. The panel held that under its police power, California has authority to prohibit licensed mental health providers from administering therapies that the legislature has deemed harmful, and the fact that speech may be used to carry out those therapies does not turn the prohibitions of conduct into prohibitions of speech. The panel further concluded that the First Amendment does not prevent a state from regulating treatment even when that treatment is performed through speech alone. The panel concluded that the record demonstrated that the legislature acted rationally when it decided to protect the well-being of minors by prohibiting mental health providers from using “sexual orientation change efforts” on persons under 18.

California was the first state to ban the practice, which is condemned as unnecessary, ineffective, and potentially harmful by all major mental health professional associations.  New Jersey followed with similar legislation this year.  The bans do not apply to professional conversion therapy sought by adults, do not ban parents or religious authorities from trying to change sexual orientation in minors, and do not prevent [...]

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New Mexico Photographer Loses Discrimination Case

In Elane Photography v. Willock, the New Mexico state supreme court has decided to reject a professional photographer’s statutory and constitutional claims that she could not be required to photograph a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony.  Filed under a state law barring discrimination based on sexual orientation in “public accommodations” (which nowadays is often defined to include small businesses that offer services to the public), the case has been kicking around in the state’s court system since 2006.  The next stop for the photographer would be the United States Supreme Court since there are First Amendment free speech and free exercise claims.

The decision comes down to three basic conclusions:

(1) The state’s antidiscrimination law applies.  Discrimination against a same-sex couple (married or not) is discrimination based on “sexual orientation” and is prohited in public accomodations under the statute.  That’s because the conduct of having, for example, a same-sex commitment ceremony (regardless of whether it’s a legal marriage or just a private celebration) is closely tied to homosexuality.  This conclusion seems right as a matter of logic and precedent.  Rejecting just such an attempt to distinguish conduct and status in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, the Supreme Court held:

Our decisions have declined to distinguish between status and conduct in this context. See Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558, 575, 123 S.Ct. 2472, 156 L.Ed.2d 508 (2003) (“When homosexual conduct is made criminal by the law of the State, that declaration in and of itself is an invitation to subject homosexual persons to discrimination.” (emphasis added)); id., at 583, 123 S.Ct. 2472 (O’Connor, J., concurring in judgment) (“While it is true that the law applies only to conduct, the conduct targeted by this law is conduct that is closely correlated with being homosexual. Under such circumstances,

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Russian Parliament Passes Bill Banning “Propaganda of Non-Traditional Sexual Relationships Aimed at Minors”

Russia Beyond the Headlines has the details; the Russian-language text of the bill is here. The bill covers “the dissemination of information, aimed at forming among minors [1] nontraditional sexual orientations, [2] an attraction to nontraditional sexual relationships, [3] a distorted perception about the social equal value of traditional and nontraditional sexual relationships, or [4] the imposition of information about nontraditional sexual relationships, creating an interest in such relationships” (translation mine). Russia Beyond the Headlines quotes “the State Duma’s committee on family, women’s and children’s affairs, Yelena Mizulina” as saying that “The term homosexuality [used in the first reading of the relevant bill] will not be used, we will use the term non-traditional sexual relations.”

The bill “was supported by 436 members of the 450-seat lower house” and “needs presidential endorsement to become law.” Thanks to Prof. Howard Friedman (Religion Clause) for the pointer. [...]

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Statutory Rape of 15-Year-Old by 18-Year-Old

The Huffington Post has an article titled, “Kaitlyn Hunt, Florida Teen, Faces Felony Charges Over Same-Sex Relationship”; Opposing Views picks it up as, “Florida Teen Kaitlyn Hunt Arrested, Expelled Over Same-Sex Relationship”;, which is linked to by the Huffington Post piece, has the headline, “Florida teen fights expulsion and criminal charges for same sex relationship”; Think Progress has the headline, “What’s Next For Kaitlyn Hunt, The Teen Charged With A Felony For Same-Sex Relationship With Classmate.”

Except that, as the bodies of the articles indicate, the charge isn’t “same-sex relationship” — it’s the non-sexual-orientation-specific statutory rape statute, Fla. Stats. § 800.04, which says, in relevant part,

A person who:

(a) Engages in sexual activity with a person 12 years of age or older but less than 16 years of age …

commits lewd or lascivious battery, a felony of the second degree ….

Kaitlyn Hunt, who is now 18, is continuing a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl; that seems to me to be a pretty clear violation of the statute. And while statutory rape laws are notoriously underenforced, I would imagine that it would be hardly unheard of for an 18-year-old boy in Florida to be arrested and expelled for having sex with a 15-year-old girl. The ThinkProgress article states, “Kaitlyn’s father suggests his daughters arrest — and the substantial sentence sought by the prosecutor — are motivated by anti-gay bias.” (The proposed deal from the prosecutor was, “She could plead guilty to child abuse, a felony, and spend two years under house arrest. The judge would determine if she would have to register as a sex offender.”) But are Florida prosecutors really materially more lenient when the parents of 15-year-old girls complain about 18-year-old men having sex with those girls? I’ve heard nothing suggesting that [...]

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Three Senses in Which DOMA Implicates Federalism

Overnight, it seems, federalism has become a major ground on which the Defense of Marriage Act is being contested.  This is surprising because, as we saw Wednesday in the arguments of Roberta Kaplan and the Solicitor General, there were no real advocates for federalism as an issue during the oral argument in United States v. WindsorNo advocates, that is, except for five of the nine people sitting behind the bench.

But what exactly is the federalism objection to DOMA?  Despite some misapprehension to the contrary, it doesn’t rest principally on Tenth Amendment case law establishing an “anti-commandeering” principle.  And it’s not that marriage is a subject over which the federal government must always, forever, and for every purpose be obedient to individual states’ whims. That would present what we might call a reverse anti-commandeering problem.

Instead, the federalism concern with DOMA breaks down into at least three different but related types of problems.

(1) The federal-power problem. DOMA is an exercise of federal power. So the first question is, where does the federal government get the power to enact a comprehensive definition of marriage? George Will thinks DOMA is a “usurpation of state power.”  James Taranto at the Wall Street Journal agrees.  Michael McConnell, perhaps the leading conservative judicial scholar of his generation, put it this way in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal:

The leading argument against DOMA all along has been that the federal government lacks authority under the Constitution to create and enforce a definition of marriage different from that of the state in which a couple resides. It is hard to think of an issue more clearly reserved to state law under constitutional tradition than the definition of marriage.

The federalism amicus brief in Windsor argues this point in [...]

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The Supreme Court’s Options in the California Same-Sex Marriage Case

Georgetown law Professor Marty Lederman has a very helpful post outlining the Supreme Court’s options in the case challenging the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage in the state:

[T]hese are the five options offered to the Court:

(i) The Court could uphold the constitutionality of Proposition 8 — that is, hold that states may limit the civil institution of marriage to opposite-sex couples.

(ii) The Court could conclude that the Fourteenth Amendment categorically prohibits states from discriminating against same-sex couples in the conferral of marriage licenses–the so-called “fifty-state holding” (although it would have a practical impact only on the forty-one states that continue to prohibit same-sex marriage).

(iii) Without reaching the question whether a state could justify denying to same-sex couples substantial benefits and privileges that it offers to opposite-sex couples, the Court could conclude that once a state has offered same-sex couples all or virtually all of the incidents of marriage that it offers to similarly situated opposite-sex couples, there is no legitimate justification for denying those couples the status of “marriage” itself . . . and that therefore it is fair to conclude that such a denial is designed only to stigmatize, or to deny respect, on the basis of sexual orientation, which the Constitution forbids. This is the so-called “eight-state solution” suggested by the United States today, which would directly affect only those states (California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, and Rhode Island) that already treat same-sex couples the same as opposite-sex couples in virtually all ways but one.

(iv) A California-only holding: The Court could hold, as did the court of appeals…, that where a state has afforded same-sex couples all or virtually all of the incidents of marriage that it offers to similarly situated opposite-sex couples,

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The Bestiality Brief

[Updated with link to Prof. Hayes’s new paper.]

The man-bites-dog story of Germany legalizing then banning bestiality raises the question of the constitutionality of such laws in the U.S. Most states criminalize zoophilia, and in many places the bans have been enacted quite recently. Moreover, the laws are from time to time enforced.

The 14th Amendment has been interpreted to recognize a broad and very valuable liberty interest in sexual autonomy. Constitutional doctrine regards private sexual choices as vastly more important than other kinds of choices, and thus presumptively protected. Homosexual conduct is just a hot-button particular instance of the general principle. Constitutional protection of heterosexual conduct comes from the same source. Thus if laws against premarital heterosexual sex (with or without contraceptives), sodomy, etc. are unconstitutional – and I think it clear that courts would find them to be – this must be justified by some special protection for sexual choice.

Bestiality is private sexual conduct and thus prima facie requires a very good justification to regulate. Given that bestiality taboos existed long before animal rights movements, one can assume their legalization or delegalization is largely based on the old taboos or stereotypes, perhaps in the sheep’s clothing of animal rights. (Similarly in the VMI case, the Court refused to let the state “update” the rationale for an old practice to something that might sound more in line with current thinking.) But insisting that bestiality bans simply regulate animal welfare is insufficient. Those regulations do not typically intrude on protected interests.

Bestiality bans regulate human sexual expression. And in the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence, sex is special. The government can also regulate, even ban, consumer products, but not when they are condoms, because that is also a regulation of sexuality. Cock fighting can be banned not because the animal suffers, [...]

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Government Out of Bedrooms, but into Barnyards

I should say at the outset that I approach this delicate subject sheepishly, but this development bears noting. In a rare example of a Western country taking steps to restrict previously recognized sexual liberties, Germany is seeking to ban bestiality. (Its supporters call it zoophilia – are opponents zoophobes?) This will presumably put out to pasture Germany’s erotic zoos, where visitors go beyond heavy petting.

Germany legalized bestiality in 1969, together with sodomy. When Justice Scalia analogized from the decriminalization of the latter to the former in his Lawrence dissent, he was widely denounced, but apparently the liberal Germans agreed with him, at least until now.

I suspect the motives behind the ban are entirely moralistic. Yet the government cannot come out and say so. Thus effort is made to distinguish the matter from Germany’s libertarian approach to sexual matters by suggesting the animals do not consent in the way consenting humans do. Yes, but they don’t consent to being bought or sold, or butchered, either, and they are not human, so consent is a red herring. This would not pass intermediate scrutiny in the U.S.

It is an invariable aspect of sexual morality regulation that those who regard a practice as amoral, or vile, also believe it has negative practical effects. The latter allows one regard one’s own knee-jerk preferences as sound social policy rather than moralizing. In today’s post-morality world, vestigal aversions to prostitution, polygamy and incest have to be justified with strained public policy arguments.

If erotic zoos are bad, it is not because, as critics contend, it is “animal rape,” any more than prohibitions on intercourse with human remains can be justified by the “non-consent” of the corpse. Requiring two-sided consent in zoophilia situations privileges the person/person intercourse model in a way which is neither [...]

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