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equal protection

Amid Controversy, Same-Sex Marriage Is Legal in Ala.

Alabama was the source of a good bit of controversy surrounding same-sex marriage last week, after a federal judge declared the state's law prohibiting same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Right after that, however, the Alabama Supreme Court's Chief Justice Roy Moore issued his own order telling state judges and employees not to recognize same-sex marriages or issue licenses. Moore's conflicting order led to questions about who trumps whom when it comes to federal trial courts and state supreme courts, but the U.S. Supreme Court put the issue to rest by refusing to review the case. What's going on down in Alabama? Same-Sex Marriage Is Constitutional -- Maybe On January 23, a federal trial judge in Alabama struck down Alabama's same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional. The state refused to allow one of the women in the case to adopt the other woman's son because it didn't recognize their marriage as valid. Citing to recent same-sex marriage decisions, including the U.S. Supreme Court's 2013 ruling in U.S. v. Windsor, Judge Callie V.S. Granade concluded that Alabama's law violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and ordered the state to no longer enforce the ban. Granade's order set the stage for Alabama to become the 37th state to permit same-sex marriage -- except that, on February 3, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore issued a memo to state probate court judges (who are in charge of marriages) indicating they weren't bound by the federal court decision, which Moore said was contrary to state law. On February 8, he ordered probate judges and state employees not to recognize same-sex marriages. Legal scholars tend to agree that Moore's opinion doesn't override a federal judge's opinion. Moore is no stranger to making controversial decisions. He was removed as chief justice in 2003 when he refused to obey a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from outside the courthouse, but Alabama voters returned him to office in 2012. The Supremes Decide Not to Weigh In The U.S. Supreme Court implicitly affirmed Granade's order on Monday, when it refused to grant an emergency petition by Alabama's attorney general to stay Granade's decision, which would have suspended the issuing of marriage licenses in the state. Justices Thomas and Scalia dissented, arguing that the state law should have been stayed to allow a federal appellate court to weigh in. The dissent also took time to criticize the Court's recent practice of not staying a federal appeals court's order when it finds a state law unconstitutional. With the U.S. Supreme Court out of the picture, Alabama counties began issuing marriage licenses -- well, most of them, anyway. According to The New York Times, some Alabama courts protested the decision by not conducting any marriages at all. Related Resources: Confusion in Alabama as Some Defy Court Order to Grant Gay Marriage Licenses (Los Angeles Times) Ark. and Miss. Gay Marriage Bans Struck Down (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Same-Sex Marriage Returns to Supreme Court: 3 Things You Should Know (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Gay Marriage Update: Kan., Mo., and 6th Circuit (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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Gay Marriage Legal in Wisconsin and Indiana: 7th. Circuit

Wisconsin and Indiana gay couples were vindicated today by a Seventh Circuit ruling that found both states' gay marriage bans unconstitutional. In a unanimous decision, the federal appellate court found that neither state was able to provide a rational basis for the same-sex marriage prohibition, leaving it to unconstitutionally deny gay couples equal protection of the laws. The Associated Press notes that with this new decision, the number of states with legalized gay marriage jumps from 19 to 21. What else is important about this gay marriage decision? Gay Marriage Now? In June, both Wisconsin and Indiana had their states' gay marriage bans ruled unconstitutional in federal court. In both states, marriages began shortly after each respective federal district court decision, allowing hundreds of gay and lesbian couples to wed. However, upon accepting both appeals, the Seventh Circuit had stayed these decisions, effectively putting marriages on hold until it came to a decision. Now the Seventh Circuit has come to a decision, so it appears that -- absent an emergency stay from the Supreme Court -- gay marriages can begin again in either state. New Test for Discrimination The traditional test for finding a law unconstitutional for violating the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of equal protection was to turn to the three levels of constitutional scrutiny. Many courts have chosen to elevate gays and lesbians to a quasi-suspect class, giving laws which discriminate against them a higher level of scrutiny. Others have chosen to apply the lowest level of scrutiny (rational basis) and still find the laws lacking. In its opinion, the Seventh Circuit sought to clear the air with a new inquiry for testing whether laws are unconstitutionally discriminatory: Does it discriminate against a historically prejudiced group, resulting in harmful, unequal treatment? Is the discrimination based on immutable or tenacious characteristics? Does the law provide an important offsetting benefit to society as a whole? Is the law overinclusive or underinclusive in providing that benefit? In answering these questions with regard to Indiana and Wisconsin's laws, the Seventh Circuit found they discriminated against a group that has been historically prejudiced (gays), who cannot and should not change their orientations. It also found that both states' reasons for denying gays marriage (childrearing and possible future harms) were either illusory or were poorly tailored in light of the reality of families in both states. Near the tail end of its opinion, the Court reminded America that "[m]inorities trampled on by the democratic process have recourse to the courts; the recourse is called constitutional law." Related Resources: Appeals court nixes Indiana, Wisconsin gay marriage bans (USA Today) Ky.'s Gay-Marriage Ban Struck Down; Judge Stays Own Ruling (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Idaho's Gay Marriage Ban Struck Down; Gov. Vows to Appeal (FindLaw's Decided) Ind. and Wis. Same-Sex Marriage Cases Preview, Hearing Rescheduled (FindLaw's U.S. 7th Circuit Blog)
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