AG Coakley Urges U.S. Supreme Court to Take Up Marriage Equality Cases
Leads Filing of Multi-State Amicus Brief Arguing that Bans on Same-Sex Marriage Are Unconstitutional; Urges Supreme Court to Ensure Marriage Equality Nationwide
BOSTON – Arguing that it is time for the U.S. Supreme Court to ensure marriage equality nationwide, Attorney General Martha Coakley today led a coalition of states in filing a brief urging it to take up several pending cases concerning the constitutionality of bans on same-sex marriage.
AG Coakley led the filing of the amicus brief on behalf of Massachusetts and 14 other states, including California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Washington.
“Our experience in Massachusetts clearly shows that allowing same-sex couples to marry has only benefitted families and strengthened the institution of marriage,” AG Coakley said. “We urge the U.S. Supreme Court to take up this important civil rights issue and ensure equal access to marriage for all couples nationwide. Laws that bar same-sex couples from marrying are discriminatory and unconstitutional. The time has come for this critical issue to be resolved.”
Today’s brief was filed in support of the petitions for Supreme Court review filed in three cases: Rainey v. Bostic, out of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and Herbert v. Kitchen and Smith v. Bishop, out of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.
A total of 31 states still do not permit marriages between same-sex couples, nor do they recognize same-sex marriages licensed by other states. The brief argues that by withholding the rights, protections, and obligations associated with marriage, these states relegate gay and lesbian couples and their families to a second-class status that is impermissible under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
AG Coakley’s brief argues that the significant deprivation of rights suffered by same-sex couples and their families when they are categorically excluded from the institution of marriage merits the Supreme Court’s intervention. In addition, the brief argues, the legal uncertainties surrounding the marriages of same-sex couples harm individuals and families, as well as state interests, and thus further merit the Supreme Court’s intervention. For example, families may reject a transfer to a job or educational opportunity in another state or refuse to move out-of-state to care for a sick relative if their marriages are not validated in the new state.
The brief also refutes the suggestion that states need more time to debate this issue and to “experiment” with same-sex marriage. The brief explains:
These arguments ignore the fundamental nature of the right at issue and unfairly minimize the deprivation that same-sex couples and their families suffer by their exclusion from the vast framework of protections, benefits, and obligations conferred only by civil marriage. Moreover, marriage equality has been a reality for a decade and the evidence is clear: allowing same-sex couples to wed only strengthens the institution of civil marriage.
Since the Supreme Court’s historic ruling in United States v. Windsor last June, AG Coakley has led the multi-state effort in support of gay and lesbian couples. On Oct. 25, 2013, AG Coakley filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in cases challenging Hawaii’s and Nevada’s bans on same-sex marriage. On Mar. 4, 2014, AG Coakley filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in cases challenging Oklahoma’s and Utah’s bans on same-sex marriage. On Apr. 18, 2014, AG Coakley filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit challenging Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage. On June 16, 2014, AG Coakley filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in a case challenging Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage. The Courts of Appeal for the Tenth and Fourth Circuits struck down the bans on same-sex marriage in Oklahoma, Utah, and Virginia. The parties to those cases have petitioned for Supreme Court review. The remaining cases are still pending before the Courts of Appeals.
This matter was handled by Jonathan Miller, Chief of AG Coakley’s Civil Rights Division, and Assistant Attorney General Genevieve Nadeau, also of AG Coakley’s Civil Rights Division.