In a 5-4 opinion, the United States Supreme Court has decided, in Obergefell v. Hodges (pdf), that prohibitions against same sex marriages violate the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the United States Constitution. I’m happy with the result, but, after an initial read of the opinion, I don’t think it is a great model of legal writing – more high minded rhetoric than clinical analysis of the facts and law before the court. (In my mind, Judge Posner’s opinion in Baskin v. Bogan (pdf) was much better as a legal document.) Chief Justice Roberts’ dissent has a lot to work with in that regard.
That said, after all the critical noise about the deficiencies in the majority opinion, Roberts’ dissent is remarkably thin where all of these efforts to justify a same-sex marriage bans have been thin: the rational basis for such prohibitions. If you strip away his critiques of why the majority opinion is deficient, the following seems to be the sum of his explanation of why such bans are constitutionally permissible:
In any event, the marriage laws at issue here do not violate the Equal Protection Clause, because distinguishing between opposite-sex and same-sex couples is rationally related to the States’ legitimate state interest in preserving the traditional institution of marriage.
“We’ve always done it this way,” is cited as a sufficient state interest. I’d enjoy seeing John Roberts, as an attorney, argue that position to Judge Posner. I’m guessing he would not fare any better than Indiana’s Solicitor General did in front of the 7th Circuit.
In Indiana, when analyzing the state’s “defense of marriage act,” the rationale had to do with procreation. My post back in 2005 after the Indiana Court of Appeals decision:
[T]he Court of Appeals found that the legislature could enact such legislation to further its goal of encouraging procreation. And, since gay couples can’t procreate, they can be deprived of the benefits conferred on married couples. . . . The reasoning of the court seems specious. I would love to see how the Court reacted to legislation that prohibited barren or post-menopausal women from getting married or remaining married.
There is a tone of indifference in that 2005 post of mine of which I am not proud. I had more gay friends than I knew back then, and even more now. And they love as deeply as anybody. Mere tradition is an insufficient reason for barring them from forming the same sorts of legally recognized family units that society affords opposite sex couples. The rationales for maintaining such prohibitions, to the extent any are offered, so often seem like post hoc affairs — after the fact rationalizations where the real reason has more to do with habit than utility.
In any event, I’m happy about this decision on a number of levels — but especially for those gay friends of mine who were not allowed to get married yesterday but who are now free to do so.