Tuesday, July 1, 2014
In his opinion today in Love v. Beshear, Judge John Heyburn held that the Kentucky provisions prohibiting same-sex marriage violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, but stayed the issuance of an injunction pending a resolution by the Sixth Circuit.
Recall that in February, Judge Heyburn ruled in Bourke v. Beshear that Kentucky's statutory and state constitutional provisions defining marriage as limited to one man and one woman violate the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause when applied to same-sex spouses married in another state.
Today's opinion considers those same constitutional and statutory provisions - - - KY. CONST. § 233A; KY. REV. STAT. ANN. §§ 402.005, .020(1)(d) (West 2014) - - - but in the context of a right to marry under Kentucky law. And, not surprisingly, today's opinion reaches similar conclusions to the earlier case of Bourke v. Beshear.
Judge Heyburn quickly concludes that Baker v. Nelson, 409 U.S. 810 (1972), in which the Supreme Court dismissed “for want of a substantial federal question” a challenge to a Minnesota Supreme Court ruling concluding that a same-sex couple did not have the right to marry under the federal Due Process or Equal Protection Clauses, is not precedential. It "is difficult to take seriously the argument that Baker bars Plaintiffs’ challenge," given that the rule for the precedential value of a summary disposition includes the exception "unless doctrinal developments indicate that the Court would rule differently now." As Judge Heyburn states: "Since 1972, a virtual tidal wave of pertinent doctrinal developments has swept across the constitutional landscape."
In considering these doctrinal developments and the applicable standard of scrutiny under Equal Protection doctrine, Judge Heyburn first considers the right at stake. He analyzes whether the right to marry is a fundamental right, but concludes that this precise question is one that "neither the Supreme Court nor the Sixth Circuit has answered." Heyburn declines to engage in "overreaching" on this issue, because the fundamental rights analysis is unnecessary given the analysis regarding sexual orientation classifications.
Judge Heyburn's conclusion on the level of scrutiny to be applied is intermediate scrutiny. Note that this is a departure from his earlier decision in Bourke to apply rational basis. Here, his conclusion - - - admittedly not supported by specific Supreme Court or Sixth Circuit precedent - - is that "homosexual persons constitute a quasi-suspect class based on the weight of the factors and on analogy to the classifications recognized as suspect and quasi- suspect.” He reaches this conclusion by applying four factors: historical discrimination; the ability to contribute to society; immutable defining characteristics; and political powerlessness. Thus, the opinion would ordinarily then apply the intermediate scrutiny standard as articulated by the court: "“substantially related to an important governmental objective."
But Judge Heyburn takes a different path, similar to the one he took in Bourke v. Beshear:
Ultimately, Kentucky’s laws banning same-sex marriage cannot withstand constitutional review regardless of the standard. The Court will demonstrate this by analyzing Plaintiffs’ challenge under rational basis review.
In discussing Kentucky's profferred interests, Judge Heyburn writes that the state's "arguments are not those of serious people." Moreover, he concludes that the means chosen are not rationally related:
Even assuming the state has a legitimate interest in promoting procreation, the Court fails to see, and Defendant never explains, how the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage has any effect whatsoever on procreation among heterosexual spouses. Excluding same-sex couples from marriage does not change the number of heterosexual couples who choose to get married, the number who choose to have children, or the number of children they have.
Judge Heyburn's last section of the opinion addresses Kentuckians, but in a much more restrained manner than his earlier opinion in Bourke. In Love v. Beshear, Judge Heyburn notes
Since this Court’s Bourke opinion [in February 2014], the legal landscape of same-sex marriage rights across the country has evolved considerably, with eight additional federal district courts and one circuit court invalidating state constitutional provisions and statutes that denied same-sex couples the right to marry.
Heyburn cites the Tenth Circuit's opinion in Kitchen v. Herbert, as well as the district court opinions in Baskin v. Bogan (Indiana); Wolf v. Walker (Wisconsin); Whitewood v. Wolf (Pennsylvania); Geiger v. Kitzhaber (Oregon); Latta v. Otter (Idaho); De Leon v. Perry (Texas); DeBoer v. Snyder (Michigan); and Bostic v. Rainey (Virgina).
He adds that with "this opinion, this Court joins their company."
It remains to be seen, however, whether the Sixth Circuit will also join this increasingly large assembly.