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Monday, January 06, 2014

HuffPost Live on Utah SSM case

I appeared on HuffPost Live with Mike Sacks on Monday afternoon discussing the Supreme Court stay of the injunction in the Utah marriage equality decision. Also on the show were Michael Dorf (Cornell) and Neomi Rao (George Mason). It was a good discussion that also got into the Little Sisters case, which has a stay application (of the district court denial of an injunction) pending before Justice Sotomayor.

After the jump, one additional thing I did not get a chance to say on the Utah case:

A lot is being made of the approximately 950 same-sex marriage licenses that Utah issued under the force of the district court injunction, which now are in limbo. (Dorf argues that Utah could ultimately recognize these marriages as permanent, but is not constitutionally obligated to do so. SCOTUSBlog reports that it is not known how many those couples actually got married and that the state is trying to figure out what to do about any marriages). Sacks drew the obvious camparison to California, which recognized the thousands of same-sex marriages performed between the Caifornia Supreme Court decision in summer 2008 recognizing marriage equality as a matter of the California Constitution and enactment of Prop 8 in November 2008.

An important distinction involves finality within the judicial branch. When the California Supreme Court rendered its decision in 2008, that was the final word on the meaning of California equal protection and due process from the judicial branch of California. The state of California law was finally established--as a a constitutional matter, same-sex couples had an unquestioned right to marry, California had an unquestioned obligation to grant those marriage licenses, and an unquestioned obligation to recognize those marriages as legal for all purposes and in perpetuity. The only reason those marriages came into question was because the state of established California law subsequently changed when Prop 8 amended the state Constitution.

But that seems fundamentally different from marriages occurring during the pendency of litigation, before the "federal judicial branch" (the Article III system as a whole) has spoken. Here, we have heard from one judge in the court of original jurisdiction and the case is pending before the next judicial level. The rights of same-sex couples to marry and the obligations of the state to recognize those marriages have not been finally established by the judiciary. And the state of the law can easily change not through the extraordinary efforts of a constitutional amendment, but by the simpler step of a higher court reversing a lower court. Thus, should the Tenth Circuit (or SCOTUS) reverse the district court, Utah is under less of a legal obligation to recognize those ineterregnum marriages than California was.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 6, 2014 at 09:41 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink

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