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Obama Admin Issues Historic Brief to SCOTUS…Advocating (Limited) Marriage Equality

The Obama admin does another half-measure, calling for marriage equality — in a limited scope. It won’t weigh in to clear the way for equality nationwide – punting to SCOTUS. Here is the fairly deflating news (if you’re in a state with a marriage amendment), or elating endorsement if you’re in a handful of states (Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog the brief is here):

In essence, the position of the federal government would simultaneously give some support to marriage equality while showing some respect for the rights of states to regulate that institution.  What the brief endorsed is what has been called the “eight-state solution” — that is, if a state already recognizes for same-sex couples all the privileges and benefits that married couples have (as in the eight states that do so through “civil unions”) those states must go the final step and allow those couples to get married.  The argument is that it violates the Constitution’s guarantee of legal equality when both same-sex and opposite-sex couples are entitled to the same marital benefits, but only the opposite-sex couples can get married.

The eight states that apparently would be covered by such a decision are: California (whose Proposition 8, which denies marriage to couples who already have all of the other marital benefits, would fall), Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, and Rhode Island.

Beyond those eight, nine other states already recognize full marriage rights for same-sex couples.   Three have done so as a result of state court rulings (Connecticut, Iowa, and Massachusetts).  Five have done so by state legislatures’ passage of equality laws (Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Washington), and one by voter-approved ballot measures (Maine).  The legislatively approved equality laws in Maryland and Washington were ratified last November by voters in statewide balloting.  Washington, D.C., also allows same-sex marriages.

The silver lining:

The administration brief did not take an explicit position on how its standard might apply to states that do not now provide civil unions or other broad marriage-like rights as the eight non-marriage states do.  But the logic of its constitutional test might, in fact, jeopardize same-sex marriage bans as a general proposition. – See more at: http://www.scotusblog.com/2013/02/u-s-endorses-limited-gay-marriage-right/#more-160232

I’m sure there will be a lot of reactions to this quite soon. Some articles up now:

More reactions are below the fold…
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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding