Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Daily Read: US v. Windsor, the DOMA Case, Amicus Brief of National Association of Evangelicals

Third in a Series: Guest Post by Versely Rosales, City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law, class of 2014

The brief submitted by National Association of Evangelicals; The Ethics  & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod; The Romanian-American Evangelical Alliance of North America; and Truth in Action Ministries supports the position of BLAG arguing for the constitutionality of DOMA. 

Churchfaith
The brief argues that rational basis review is the proper standard for evaluating legislation, like DOMA, that implicates questions of values, culture, and policy. The brief also argues that “moral and religious views voiced in support of DOMA do not detract from its validity.”

The rational basis argument:

This amicus brief first argues that rational basis governs because what is at issue in DOMA “is not a discrimination against a discrete and insular minority.”  Instead, the issue is a “profound culture debate over the nature and meaning of marriage.”  Further, because “homosexuals” have political power, they do not need extraordinary judicial protection from majoritarian interests. Thus, they can rely on the democratic political processes to engage in a debate over values, morals, judgments, and culture. Therefore, rational basis review is the only standard that allows for spirited democratic debate over the different visions of marriage that should prevail in the federal government. By applying anything other than rational basis, the Court would deprive the public of this debate. In particular, it would deny faith communities, who have a “long experience in these matters” and “unique perspectives,” to be heard by democratic decision makers.

Thus, the brief contends that the Second Circuit’s conclusion that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional stands on a “rickety foundation.”  The Second Circuit is faulted for “creat[ing] the first new protected class in 35 years,” and being contrary to every federal court of appeals that has addressed the question.  Further, this amicus brief notes several other reasons why heightened scrutiny is “plainly improper in this case.” First, heightened-scrutiny jurisprudence contains a strong presumption against creating new suspect classes as courts should be very reluctant to closely scrutinize legislative choices. Secondly, the Constitution presumes that unjust discrimination will be remedied through the ordinary democratic process. Thirdly, the Supreme Court’s refusal to recognize any new suspect classes confirms the necessity of a very cautious approach into sensitive areas.  

The amicus brief of these religious organizations criticizes the Second Circuit opinion for failing to recognize that rational basis review is the proper standard of review for preserving the primacy of the democratic process in cases turning on fundamental issues of public policy, culture, and morality. DOMA is argued to be within this category because it has become monumental cultural conflict between two major visions of marriage: traditional marriage which is centered on procreating and raising children; and the more recent, genderless, adult-orientated notion where procreation and childrearing are not central to marriage’s meaning. The traditional marriage concept has deep roots and provides a mechanism for coping with the reality that sex between men and women generally results in pregnancy and childbirth. And, whether proven or not, it is reasonable to accept that children born from opposite-sex married relationships will benefit by being raised by two parents within long-term relationships. In addition, lawmakers cannot and should not rely on social science scholars on the effects of sexual minorities parenting children because, in part, such opinions are inherently tentative and often laden with value-based assumptions.  Thus, lawmakers should be allowed to use their judgments and own experience, which have led them to believe that traditional marriage and family structure deserve distinctive legal protections.

The amicus brief also points out while the Court has never adopted “the genderless, adult-centered definition of marriage,” it has “long endorsed the strong legislative preference for man-woman marriage as the foundation of our society.” Given this historical preference, the Court should construe DOMA as a rational preference for the tried and familiar over the untried and novel.

The moral and religious views argument:

The second main argument of this amicus brief contends “moral and religious views voiced in support of DOMA do not detract from its validity.”  Congress identified “defending traditional notions of morality” as one of the four “governmental interests” for the enactment of DOMA. The brief argues that Congress recognized that the issue of marriage has moral or religious aspects for many Americans and that cannot be divorced from the practicalities. Lawmakers have the right to protect this valued moral norm, and when they do so, it should not be labeled as invalid just because it happens to coincide with the tenets of some - - -or all - - - religions. To declare DOMA void merely because it adheres to traditional moral and religious belief would fly in the face of this Court’s ruling that the Constitution does not allow the government to treat religion and those who practice or teach it as being subversive to American ideals and therefore subject them to unique disabilities. “By scrutinizing a law reflecting, in part, religious values more severely than others, courts would effectively target such beliefs or religious support for unusual burdens or penalties.”

Interestingly, the brief ultimately argues that to subject DOMA to heightened scrutiny simply because of its “affiliation with traditional morality would raise First Amendment concerns.”

Contribution of the Brief:

This amicus brief supports the position of BLAG that DOMA is unconstitutional.  But although BLAG agrees that traditional marriage coincides with religious sections of the citizenry, it does not emphasize the moral aspect of DOMA in its brief.

The Government brief does not agree with the assertion that what is at issue is a cultural debate. The Government clearly argues in its brief that DOMA is based on discrimination and it affects the distribution of benefits to a sub-section of society. The Government also disagrees with the Amicus brief’s most basic contention: Homosexuals are not a discrete and insular minority deserving of heightened scrutiny.

The argument that the First Amendment is relevant is unique; it is not shared by BLAG or the Government.

[posted and edited by RR]
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