Tag Archives: same-sex marriage

To Bake or Not to Bake

This week, the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.  The case involves Colorado’s civil rights statutes which prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.  The petitioner — a baker — claims that he should be exempt from that requirement because he believes that gay marriage is morally wrong and, by making him sell a wedding cake to the happy couple, the Colorado law is compelling him to endorse the wedding.

In many ways, this case is similar to the Hobby Lobby case from several years ago, but, in some key ways, it is different.  The main difference requires going back thirty years to a rather infamous free exercise decision, Employment Division of Oregon vs. Smith.  In Smith, Justice Scalia all but wrote the Free Exercise Clause out of the Constitution — holding that it created no exemption based on religious belief from a generally applicable law.  In response, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act which was intended to restore the pre-Smith interpretation of the Free Exercise Clause.  There are, however, two problems with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  First, as shown by Hobby Lobby, it actually created more protections than the pre-Smith decisions.  Second, the United States Supreme Court has held that it only creates a rule for interpreting federal statutes and that Congress does not have the power to impose a similar rule on the states.  Because this case involves a state law, the RFRA does not apply.  While the baker attempts to raise a free exercise claim, that claim is unlikely to succeed under Smith as the ban on discriminating against homosexuals is a law of general application.  That does, however, leave the free speech claim.

The free speech claim brings us back into the Hobby Lobby universe where the question is whose perception controls.  Besides actual speech, free speech protection extends to expressive conduct.  Furthermore, as a general matter, the government may not compel speech.  The question is thus who is speaking in this case — a question that could blow a significant whole in civil rights law. Continue Reading...

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Marriage is a Fundamental Right

Most people would not debate that statement.   And the Supreme Court has previously recognized that basic principle.  Some, however, believe that their definition of marriage is the only definition of marriage that has ever been recognized in this country.  Today, in a 5-4 decision by Justice Kennedy, the majority of the Supreme Court thoroughly set forth the historical facts showing that the definition of marriage and what it means to be married has been ever-changing throughout history.  In light of the ever-changing nature of marriage, laws banning gays and lesbians from marrying their preferred partners simply represented discrimination against gays and lesbians, violating the equal protection clause.

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Supreme Court Decisions: The Final Week

Today, the Supreme Court issued four opinions, leaving seven cases still pending from this year.  They also announced that they will be issuing opinions on Thursday and Friday.  With two more opinion days this week, there is a significant chance that the last of the opinions will be issued on Friday, but it is slightly more likely that the last one or two will come on Monday (with a slim chance of a second opinion day next week).  Additionally, with today’s opinions, it is possible to make a good guess on who has which case.

From January, it is all but certain that Justice Kennedy has the Fair Housing case.  That is not necessarily good for civil rights activists, but there were worse possibilities.

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The Supreme Court and Same-Sex Marriage

This upcoming week is the last week of arguments for the current Supreme Court Term.  The highlight of this week’s arguments is Tuesday’s arguments in the same-sex marriage cases.  Ahead of the argument, a brief preview in the form of frequently asked questions.

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