How Maine Q. 1 is different from Prop 8

The campaign has mostly stayed below the radar, but voters in Maine will soon decide whether same-sex marriage will be legalized in their state.  Question 1 on this November’s ballot is very similar to last year’s California Proposition 8, but there are some big differences that I think are important.

Same-sex marriage was briefly legalized in California as a result of the state Supreme Court decision In re Marriage Cases.  The court refused to stay its holding to allow legal challenges, resulting in the voter initiative know as Prop. 8.  That vote and the subsequent California Supreme Court review brought gay marriages to a halt in California, but did not invalidate those already performed.

Contrast that tumultuous history with the background in Maine.  Like in New Hampshire, same-sex marraige was legalized in Maine through legislative act rather than judicial opinion.  I consider this to be a far preferable method of implementing new laws, for several reasons.  For example, the Maine statute included specific language about religious freedoms and addressed how the new law would (and would not) alter the obligations of religious organizations, clergy, and individuals.  I don’t think the Maine statute went far enough to protect individuals, but it’s a lot better than the silence in California on the topic.

Maine was also prudent enough to delay issuing marriage licenses to gay couples pending the outcome of Question 1.  While this may delay the ability of some couples to marry, I think it is much better to avoid the legal limbo and further litigation that happened in California.  The Maine statute also seems to address legitimate interests of gay citizens, rather than the ephemeral social acceptance the California Supreme Court attempted to mandate.  In general, I think legislators and officials in Maine have taken a far better approach to the question of legalizing same-sex marriage than their counterparts in California.

For Mormons, one of the biggest differences in the two campaigns is that the LDS Church has not taken an active role in the Maine initiative like it did in California. Individual Mormons are active in the campaign, but there have been no letters read from the pulpit or public statements from Mormon officials like in Prop. 8. I think this may be due to the fact that there is a smaller LDS population in Maine than in California, and perhaps the legislative approach to the law change and religious protections were more palatable to Mormon leaders. However, given the backlash and hostility following the outcome of Prop. 8, perhaps Mormon leaders are reluctant to get involved in a firefight again.

Despite their differences, Maine Question 1 and California Proposition 8 do have one thing in common: just days before the election, both initiatives were too close to call.  Maine Question 1 is running about even in the polls, so it won’t be until November 3 before we know the outcome.

Photo credit: J. Stephen Conn.This content is cross-posted from LDS Law.

9th Cir. rejects challenge to SF anti-Catholic resolution

(Note: This is a more thorough treatment of last week’s Legal Brief about Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights v. City and County of San Francisco.)

In 2006 the City Council of San Francisco adopted a resolution that criticized the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality. Catholic Charities, like LDS Social Services, acts as an adoption agency. The Archdiocese of San Francisco had instructed the agency to not place children with gay couples, and the San Francisco City Council’s response called the policy an “insult to all San Franciscans” and “unacceptable to the citizenry of San Francisco, and also stated:

Such hateful and discriminatory rhetoric is both insulting and callous, and shows a level of insensitivity and ignorance which has seldom been encountered by this Board of Supervisors 

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights suit against the City for violations of the Establishment Clause. That action was quickly tossed out on a 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim, and the Catholic League appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of appeals. The Ninth Circuit issued its ruing on Wednesday, and once again rejected the Catholic League’s claims.

At its heart, this case is an application of the misnomered Lemon test. As the Ninth Circuit cites it, the Lemon test permits government action if  it “(1) has a secular purpose; (2) has a principal or primary effect that neither advances nor disapproves of religion; and (3) does not foster excessive governmental entanglement with religion.” Failure to meet any of the three factors will cause the action to fail constitutional scrutiny.

In what I believe is a flawed analysis, the Ninth Circuit held that the City’s statement passed the Lemon test. As an initial matter, it is worth pointing out that the so-called Lemon test can be somewhat misleading, since the balancing process was really established in two previous Supreme Court cases. Under U.S. v. O’Brien and Clark v. Community for Creative Non-Violence, the courts are to balance the secular purposes of the government with the principal or primary effect of advances/prohibits religion. This is essentially the same framework the Supreme Court established to deal with accidental interferences with religion or free speech. Under the O’Brien/Clark doctrine, an interference with religion is unconstitutional if the interference is intentional. I think it is clear that the City of San Francisco’s pointed statement intentionally targeted a specific denomination and criticized its beliefs.

The Ninth Circuit found that the City’s purpose was primarily secular. I can see good arguments on both sides, since sexual orientation equality is a valid secular purpose under California law. I’m not sure I agree that the City’s purpose was to establish equality — more likely it was to criticize the Catholic Church — but reasonably minds could differ. What I find untenable is the Ninth Circuit’s finding that the primary effect of the City’s resolution did not disapprove of religion.

This is not a well-crafted opinion. The Ninth Circuit’s language on pages 11-12 of the preliminary copy of the opinion is ambiguous at best, and may even evince the judges’ predispositions. That portion of the decision refers to the City’s secular interest in promoting same-sex adoption; if the City indeed had such a goal to support same-sex adoptions over heterosexual adoptions it would be unconstitutional.

Another significant flaw in the decision was pointed out by Richard Thompson, who argued the case on behalf of the Catholic League:

“This dismissal was based on grounds that the pleadings failed to state a claim under the rules of civil procedure.  Although the panel correctly posited the rule that they must accept all of Plaintiffs’ allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the Plaintiffs, the court totally ignored the rule in its opinion and drew all inferences in favor the San Francisco including their intent in enacting the resolution without allowing Plaintiffs to engage in any discovery.”

Even though the decision was unanimous, Judge Marsha Berzon filed a concurring opinion that signaled at least some discomfort with government criticism of religious views. Citing Judge John Noonan’s dissent in the similar case American Family Association v. City and County of San Francisco, Judge Berzon wrote:

“. . .I am acutely aware that ‘the Constitution assures religious believers that units of government will not take positions that amount to the establishment of a policy condemning their religious belief,’ . . . and that resolutions such as the ones in American Family and the one in this case are near – if not at – the line that separates establishment of such a policy.”

In my opinion, that line was crossed in both American Family and Catholic League.

The issue is probably not settled yet — the Thomas Moore Law Center, which conducted the appeal, plans on seeking rehearing en banc.

                                                                                                                                                                                 Catholic League for Religious and Civil Righst v. City and County of San Francisco            peterrtenn                             A Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling rejecting a challenge to a San Francisco City Board resolution that criticized the Catholic Church’s policies on homosexuality.                                      
 
Photo credit: brothergrimm.

Legal Briefs: No Establishment Clause Violation in San Francisco’s Condemning the Catholic Church’s Refusal To Help With Adoptions by Same-Sex Couples

New Hampshire Governor John Lynch signs same-sex marriage bill

Last month we covered the debate in New Hampshire over Governor John Lynch’s proposed amendments to a same-sex marriage bill that would provide certain religious protections for clergy and religious organizations. The New Hampshire house refused to accept Governor Lynch’s proposed language and the bill had stalled. Today various media outlets are reporting that the bill has been signed into law, and that most of the religious protections survived committee review.

I think this is an encouraging first step in reconciling religious liberties and the seemingly inevitable expansion of same-sex marriage. As his signing statement indicated, Governor Lynch clearly recognized this tension and sought to address it in a way that had not been done in any other state so far. (This, by the way, is one of the reasons why such measures are best performed by the legislature rather than the judiciary.) Governor Lynch’s proposed language didn’t go far enough in my opinion because it fails to protect the religious liberties of individual that are not clergy or managed by a religious organization. But at least New Hampshire recognized those religious rights, which is more than can be said for Massachusetts or California.

Photo credit: marcn.

The California Supreme Court Upholds Prop. 8


The California Supreme Court today upheld Proposition 8’s ban on same-sex marriage but also ruled that gay couples who wed before the election will continue to be married under state law.

The decision virtually ensures another fight at the ballot box over marriage rights for gays. Gay rights activists say they may ask voters to repeal the marriage ban as early as next year, and opponents have pledged to fight any such effort. Proposition 8 passed with 52% of the vote.

Although the court split 6-1 on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the justices were unanimous in deciding to keep intact the marriages of as many as 18,000 gay couples who exchanged vows before the election. The marriages began last June, after a 4-3 state high court ruling striking down the marriage ban last May. Only Justice Carlos R. Moreno, the court’s sole Democrat, wanted Proposition 8 struck down as an illegal constitutional revision.

Legal Briefs: Obama nominates Sotomayor to High Court; Prop 8 upheld but performed marriages stand

  • This morning President Barack Obama nominated Second Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Sylvia Sotomayor to replace Supreme Court Justice David Souter, who announced his retirement earlier this year. Judge Sotomayor has long been on the short list of potential nominees, and would be the first Justice of Latino heritage. Howard Friedman of Religion Clause already has a run-down of Judge Sotomayor’s religion decisions.
  • The California Supreme Court issued its ruling on the legal challenges to California Proposition 8, upholding the referendum but letting stand the approximately 18,000 gay marriages already performed in the state.

New Hampshire gay marriage bill stalled over religious exemption

I saw yesterday (via the Mirror of Justice) that the Democratically-controlled New Hampshire House of Representatives blocked passage of a bill that would have allowed same-sex marriages in the state. You may have seen news reports that New Hampshire Governor John Lynch promised to sign the bill if a provision was added to allow clergy to decline to perform such marriages. Here’s the significant portion of the added language:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a religious organization, association, or society, or any individual who is managed, directed, or supervised by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association or society, or any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association or society, shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges to an individual if such request for such services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges is related to the solemnization of a marriage, the celebration of a marriage, or the promotion of marriage through religious counseling, programs, courses, retreats, or housing designated for married individuals, and such solemnization, celebration, or promotion of marriage is in violation of their religious beliefs and faith. Any refusal to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges in accordance with this section shall not create any civil claim or cause of action or result in any state action to penalize or withhold benefits from such religious organization, association or society, or any individual who is managed, directed, or supervised by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association or society, or any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association or society.

As Minnesota Law prof Dale Carpenter pointed out, the language is fairly broad but it could be broader. It doesn’t cover state employees, for example, or private individuals who are not actually managed or directed by a religious entity.  But it’s definitely the broadest protection included in same-sex marriage legislation so far, and it will likely set the pattern for states in the future. This is the first concrete attempt I have seen to reconcile the conflict between religious liberties and the gay rights movement, and though I oppose same-sex marriage, I found it quite hopeful. It even seemed to reinforce the argument of Dave Banack of Times & Seasons that the LDS Church should focus on defending religious liberties rather than opposing same-sex marriage.

But the New Hampshire House killed the bill. At first glance it appears that same-sex marriage proponents were willing to have the bill defeated before conceding any ground. This is not a productive approach, and it is precisely the type of behavior that has created the clash between religious groups and same-sex marriage supporters. As an opponent of same-sex marriage, perhaps I should be glad that the measure was defeated. But I’m really disappointed that the New Hampshire legislators were so unwilling to recognize appropriate accomodations to First Amendment religious rights.

For more information on the intersection of religious rights and gay marriage, see the Pew Forum’s Question & Answer session today with George Washingoton Law professors Chip Lupu and Robert Tuttle.

Photo credit: NASAVideographer.

New federal lawsuit challenges Defense of Marriage Act

The same group that won the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision paving the way for gay marriages in that state has filed a new federal lawsuit challenging the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The suit alleges equal protection violations of same-sex spouses who were denied federal benefits (such as pensions or Social Security) under DOMA. I can’t go into great detail without access to the actual filings, but at first blush this seems like a clear-cut equal protection violation. In my opinion DOMA cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny, and this lawsuit could very well be the first step in dismantling DOMA.

Today’s lawsuit doesn’t challenge the provisions of DOMA that allow states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages effectuated in other states. Mary Bonauto, head of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), insists that her organization has no plans to challenge that portion of DOMA, but it’s only a matter of time before the rest of DOMA is challenged. If the federal benefits portion of DOMA is faulty (and I believe it is), then a similar argument can be made that the state provisions violate the Full Faith and Credit Clause.

I’ve never heard any of the legal counsel to the LDS Church give an explanation as to why the Church supported a federal constitutional amendment on traditional marriage, but I have always assumed it was because the Church’s legal advisers recognized that DOMA was probably unconstitutional. From a legal perspective I think an amendment to the U.S. Constitution on marriage is a bad idea, since marriages have always been left to the states. But if I am right and DOMA is destined to fail, then only a federal constitutional amendment could preserve the traditional definition of marriage on a national level.

Same-sex Marriage ban defeated in Wyoming legislature

The Casper Star-Tribune is reporting this week that a proposed amendment to the Wyoming state constitution that would define marriage between one man and one woman was defeated in the state legislature this week. The defeat was due in part to the opposition by two LDS legislators, State Senator Katheryn Sessions and State Representative Joe Barbuto . I think the peculiar circumstances in Wyoming present an interesting fact pattern. First of all, Wyoming is no Utah. It ranks in the bottom half of the U.S. in terms of religiosity and Mormons are clearly a minority of the population. However, unlike other regions of the country, there are no dominant religious denominations. As my friend from Wyoming once said, “If you’re driving down the road in Wyoming and you see a church, it’s probably a Mormon church.” So while Mormons aren’t a large block of the population, they are essentially the only denomination with any significant presence in the state.

It seems that the stereotypical Western you-mind-your-business-and-I’ll-mind-mine approach has some truth in Wyoming. So it would be easy to interpret the same-sex marriage vote as one falling down religious lines. And yet the bill’s sponsor isn’t a Mormon and at least some of the Mormon legislators voted against the measure. It seems to me that this isn’t a simple matter of religious persuasion, but the normal complicated political process in action.

Ever since last year’s Proposition 8 campaign most media reports have depicted the LDS Church as a monolithic group that universally supported the referendum. And while many members of the LDS Church did just that, the Wyoming vote shows that there is clearly room for differing opinions. I’ll follow this post up soon with my thoughts on the use of state constitutional amendments and the future of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Prop 8 Maps and NAACP v. Alabama

California Proposition 8 is the news event that keeps on giving. The latest bit of news that has caught my attention was a rather clever mash-up of Google Maps and the California political contribution disclosure information. Under the California Political Reform Act of 1974, all political contributions over $100 require public disclosure of the donor’s name, address, occupation, and other personal information. Prop 8 Maps is a website that plots all of that information on Google Maps, making it searchable by city name or zip code.

As you might imagine, this has made many donors nervous. One group of Proposition 8 supporters already filed suit in Indiana federal court seeking an injunction. The lawsuits alleges that Proposition 8 supporters have experienced “death threats, acts of domestic terrorism, physical violence, threats of physical violence, vandalism of personal property, harassing phone calls, harassing e-mails, blacklisting and boycotts,” and that an the donor information should not be disclosed.

Ironically, there are a couple Ninth Circuit cases that might have protected this disclosure if the supporters of Proposition 8 had been fewer. But because the referendum passed, those cases would not apply. Thus, there doesn’t appear to be any case law that would allow withholding donor information of a large political group, even in the face of a hypothetically strident or threatening minority. Eugene Volokh has more discussion here, including whether technological changes (like Prop 8 Maps) should alter the calculus.

I was interested in the case because it reminded me of the situation in NAACP v. Alabama, a civil rights-era case that challenged a somewhat similar law in Alabama that required all corporations to disclose their membership or shareholders. In 1956 the State of Alabama sought to obtain a list of all the members of the NAACP in the state, and the organization refused. The resulting lawsuit was appealed up to the Supreme Court, where the Court recognized a high likelihood of a substantial restraint on the NAACP members’ exercise of their right to freedom of association. Justice Harlan wrote:

We hold that the immunity from state scrutiny of membership lists which the Association claims on behalf of its members is here so related to the right of the members to pursue their lawful private interests privately and to associate freely with others in so doing as to come within the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment.


The Alabama law was similar to laws in many states, and there was no evidence shown that it was recently passed or specifically tailored to apply to the NAACP. Any resulting infringement of free speech was, therefore, an accidental interference. Accidental interferences with free speech should be resolved by balancing the degree of interference with the state’s regulatory interest. In the case of the Alabama law the state had a valid interest in knowing the personal information of corporation members/shareholders, but it was vastly outweighed by the enormous interference with the free speech of organizations such as the NAACP. This was particularly important because there are few alternatives to organized political speech.

Now consider the California law that requires disclosure of political donors’ personal information if the donors contribute more than $100. At the outset, it is important to courts recognize a free speech insterest in engaging in anonymous speech, so the compelled disclosure of donor information does constitute a restriction on free speech. But almost all courts have upheld disclosure requirements on political contributions. Like the Alabama law, the California law doesn’t appear to have been enacted or amended to specifically apply to the supporters of Proposition 8, so any interference with free speech is probably accidental rather than intentional.

Once again the analysis requires a balancing of the free speech interests and government regulatory interests, but the outcome should be different in the current situation. The threats, vandalism, and harassment experienced by Proposition 8 supporters so far don’t come close to the widespread, institutional persecution and prejudice experience by civil rights supporters in Alabama in 1956. Additionally, the California law does not require disclosure of all members of groups favoring the passage of Proposition 8, or even all donors to the cause. The $100 donor threshold is admittedly quite low, but it still represents a lesser infringement on free speech interests than the Alabama law. The California law also presents stronger regulatory interests, since the disclosure of political contributors can help prevent fraud and illegal donations. These interests are designed to ensure the successful operation of the democratic system, and therefore serve some of the same goals as the First Amendment itself.

The bottom line is that the California disclosure law and any initiative using that data are almost certainly legal and permissible under the First Amendment. Projects like Prop 8 Maps are definitely creepy, and as many same-sex marriage supporters have observed, they are the “perfect tool for backlash.” I would consider it unconscionable to participate in a similar project. But this is part of the price we pay for maintaining free speech in America.