Sunday, August 12, 2012
In in an opinion exceeding 100 pages, Judge Alan Kay, Senior District Judge for the District of Hawai'i, upheld the Hawai'i marriage scheme in Jackson v. Abercrombie. The plaintiffs had argued that Hawai'i Constitution Article 1, Section 23 stating that “[t]he legislature shall have the power to reserve marriage to opposite- sex couples,” and Hawaii Revised Statutes § 572-1, which states that marriage “shall be only between a man and a woman,” violated the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the United States Constitution. Governor Abercrombie's Answer agreed with the plaintiffs' constitutional arguments. However, Defendant Fuddy, Hawai'i Director of Health, and Intervenor Hawai'i Family Forum, opposed the plaintiffs, and the Judge resolved the case on Summary Judgment.
Those conversant with same-sex marriage jurisprudence in the United States will recall that Hawai'i is a landmark in the second-generation litigation: In Baehr v. Lewin, 852 P.2d 44 (Haw. 1993), the Hawai'i Supreme Court found the limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples violated the state constitution. This decision prompted the state constitutional amendment, Article I, Section 3, referenced above (and interestingly in terms of judicial review, not prohibiting same-sex marriage but allocating that power only to the legislature and not to the courts). It also prompted Congress to pass DOMA - - - the Defense of Marriage Act - - - constitutionally suspect at present.
Judge Kay rehearses these histories at length. However, he rests his rejection of the plaintiffs' constitutional challenges on a "decision" of the first-generation of same-sex marriage litigation: The United States Supreme Court’s summary dismissal in Baker v. Nelson, 409 U.S. 810 (1972) (mem.). For Judge Kay: "Baker is the last word from the Supreme Court regarding the constitutionality of a state law limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples and thus remains binding on this Court." (Opinion at 46).
Most courts considering the issue have rejected the 1972 summary dismissal in Baker v. Nelson as binding precedent. Thus, Judge Kay also provides an "alternative analysis" under the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses. He applies rational basis review, concluding that "marriage" can be reserved to opposite-sex couples because the legislature can rationally choose to encourage the stability of relationships that have the ability to "procreate naturally" and choose to promote the raising of children by "a mother and a father." Judge Kay also credits the legislature's rational choice to "proceed with caution" in an area of social change:
Hawaii could rationally conclude that by enacting the reciprocal beneficiaries act, followed years later by the civil unions law, and retaining the definition of marriage as a union between a man and woman, it is addressing a highly-debated social issue cautiously. By doing so, it may observe the effect of the reciprocal beneficiaries and civil unions laws before deciding whether or not to extend the title marriage, along with the already conferred legal rights, to same-sex couples.
Yet Judge Kay's ultimate rejection goes further. He writes that "to suddenly constitutionalize the issue of same-sex marriage “would short-circuit” the legislative actions that have been taking place in Hawaii." (Opinion at 118). Certainly, the judicial restraint arguments are familiar by now, but to write in 2012 that the plaintiffs seek to "suddenly constitutionalize the issue of same-sex marriage" is odd. Indeed, it is undermined by Judge Kay's own opinion with its careful history of second-generation litigation since 1990 and his reliance on a summary dismissal in 1972.
The plaintiffs are doubtless preparing their appeal to the Ninth Circuit.