Wednesday, June 25, 2014
In a divided decision, the Tenth Circuit opinion in Kitchen v. Herbert held that the
Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the United States Constitution, those who wish to marry a person of the same sex are entitled to exercise the same fundamental right as is recognized for persons who wish to marry a person of the opposite sex, and that [Utah's state constitution's] Amendment 3 and similar statutory enactments do not withstand constitutional scrutiny.
Affirming the district court's decision as well as its analysis, the Tenth Circuit panel majority, authored by Judge Carlos Lucero, and joined by Judge Jerome Holmes, applied strict scrutiny because it found that the "right to marry is a fundamental liberty."
In applying strict scrutiny, the panel majority assumed that three of the four interests advanced by the government - - - (1) “fostering a child-centric marriage culture that encourages parents to subordinate their own interests to the needs of their children”; (2) “children being raised by their biological mothers and fathers—or at least by a married mother and father—in a stable home”; (3) “ensuring adequate reproduction” - - - were compelling. However, the court found that the means chosen - - - the prohibition of same-sex marriage - - - did not sufficiently serve these interests. Instead, each of the
justifications rests fundamentally on a sleight of hand in which same-sex marriage is used as a proxy for a different characteristic shared by both same-sex and some opposite-sex couples.
The court noted that Justice Scalia, dissenting in Windsor, and numerous district judges, reached a similiar conclusion. The majority observed that the lack of narrow tailoring is "often revealed" by underinclusiveness, finding it important that Utah did not ban nonprocreative marriages.
The court's analysis of each of the three rationales is substantial and erudite, firmly rooted in precedent and well-reasoned.
As to the fourth and final interest asserted by the government - - -“accommodating religious freedom and reducing the potential for civic strife,” - - - the court reasoned that "the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that public opposition cannot provide cover for a violation of fundamental rights" and emphasized that its "decision relates solely to civil marriage."
Dissenting from the more than 60 page majority opinion, Judge Paul Kelly wrote more than 40 pages in disagreement (although he did agree with the majority on the standing issue, making the opinion concurring in part). Not surprisingly, he disagreed with the level of scrutiny to be applied; he concluded that there was no fundamental right at issue and would have applied rational basis scrutiny. Also not surprisingly, he would have concluded that Utah's ban on same-sex marriage satisfied this most easily satisfied level of scrutiny given the state's interests in (1) responsible procreation, (2) effective parenting, and (3) the desire to proceed cautiously in this evolving area.
More surprisingly, Judge Kelly found that the Supreme Court's per curiam dismissal in 1972 of Baker v. Nelson, for "want of a substantial federal question" controlling ; it "should foreclose the Plaintiffs’ claims, at least in this court," notwithstanding the Court's decision invalidating the federal Defense of Marriage Act's ban on recognition of same-sex marriage last term in Windsor.
If - - and most probably when - - - the United States Supreme Court does consider the issue of state laws banning same-sex marriage, Baker v. Nelson will be irrelevant and the Court will directly grapple with issues if fundamental constitutional rights and levels of scrutiny under the Fourteenth Amendment's due process and equal protection doctrines.
Given that the Tenth Circuit stayed its decision pending the disposition of any subsequently filed petition for certiorari it may be that both sides seek review from the United States Supreme Court,