March 18, 2013

Constitutional law expert available to comment on gay rights cases

U.S. Supreme Court to hear arguments March 26 and 27

Wayne State University Distinguished Professor of Law Robert Sedler, a world-renowned expert on Constitutional law, is available to comment on the same-sex marriage cases awaiting action from the U.S. Supreme Court.

The outcome of those cases, both of which involve constitutional issues, will have an impact on a Michigan case now in U.S. District Court that was brought against the state by April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse of Hazel Park, a lesbian couple seeking to marry legally in Michigan so they can have joint custody of their adopted children.

Pretrial hearings in the DeBoer case took place March 7 at Wayne Law, when Judge Bernard Friedman heard arguments during the school’s annual “Motion Day.” The judge postponed his ruling to await guidance from the Supreme Court’s decisions on the two pending same-sex marriage cases before it.

Those cases are expected to be decided by the Supreme Court at the end of its current term in late June.

One of those cases — Hollingsworth v. Perry —is a challenge to California’s ban on same-sex marriage that came about when voters in 2008 approved a constitutional amendment to end the state’s previous legal sanction of gay unions.  The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals held in that case that the voter-approved amendment violated the federal Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment equal protection clause, “because it served no purpose and had no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gay and lesbian persons in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples,” Sedler explained.

The appellate court’s holding in Perry now are being challenged in the Supreme Court, and the status of same-sex marriage in California depends on the outcome. The Perry case will be argued on March 26 before the high court.

The other case before the Supreme Court, which is slated to be argued March 27, is United States v. Windsor, coming from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which determined that the federal law known as the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as meaning only “a legal union between one man and one woman,” violates the equal protection component of the federal Constitution’s Fifth Amendment due process clause “by denying federal recognition to same-sex marriages that are legal in the state where the same-sex couple resides,” the professor explained.

There are several possible outcomes to the Supreme Court cases, Sedler said, adding that “both of the cases have procedural issues which the court could hold prevent it from hearing the case on the merits.” That would be one outcome.

If the high court hears the cases, it could decide in three different ways:

• Hold that there is no constitutional right to same-sex marriage;
• Hold that there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage in all circumstances; or
• Affirm or reverse the result in the particular case.

If the Supreme Court holds against a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, the Michigan case would have to be dismissed, Sedler said. Conversely, if the Supreme Court holds that the constitutional right exists, the Michigan couple likely would win their case, he said. If the Supreme Court merely affirms or reverses the same-sex marriage cases before it, “the outcome would not control the result in the DeBoer case, but would provide guidance to the decision in that case by the District Court,” he said.


Carol Baldwin
Phone: 313-577-9703

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