Friday, July 18, 2014
Tenth Circuit on the Oklahoma Same-Sex Marriage Ban
What does the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals panel decide in its 106 page divided opinions in Bishop v. Smith? It's complicated.
But essentially the Tenth Circuit affirms the district judge's opinion finding the Oklahoma ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional and extends to Oklahoma its own ruling in Kitchen v. Herbert (by this same panel) from a few weeks ago finding Utah's same-sex marriage prohibition unconstitutional.
The complications are caused in part by the procedural posture of the case. For the majority opinion, authored Judge Carlos Lucero, and joined by Judge Jerome Holmes (as was Herbert v. Kitchen), the major issue was the standing of the plaintiffs, specifically on the "redressability" prong of standing. Recall that Oklahoma has both a constitutional amendment and a statute limiting marriage to "a man and a woman" and that the Oklahoma constitutional amendment not only prohibits same-sex marriage but prohibits its recognition even if valid in another state.
The plaintiffs, in a lawsuit filed in 2004 soon after the state constitutional amendment was adopted, challenged only the state constitutional amendment but not the statute.
Affirming the district judge, the Tenth Circuit held plaintiffs nevertheless had standing because "the statutory prohibitions are subsumed in the challenged constitutional provision, an injunction against the latter’s enforcement will redress the claimed injury." However, again affirming the district judge, the plaintiffs did not have standing to challenge the "recognition" portion of the constitutional amendment because the defendant - - - the clerk of court - - - could not redress the non-recognition injury.
This problem as to the non-recognition of marriage claim is further complicated by the fact that the Tenth Circuit, in considering a dismissal of the Governor and Attorney General as defendants who could redress the injury stated - - - or seemed to state? - - - that the Clerk of the Court was the correct defendant. Thus, under a "law of the case" argument, the courts should be bound by that determination. The Tenth Circuit panel decided it was not bound, in part because of the "new evidence" of an affidavit by the Court Clerk describing her duties. It also rejected a nonseverability of the recognition and nonrecognition portions of the provision, finding that because it had not been made earlier it was waived.
As to the merits, the majority held that it was governed by its ruling in Kitchen v. Herbert, although facts and arguments differed "in some respects," the "core holdings are not affected by those differences." The panel majority did discuss two additional arguments: a Baker v. Nelson argument that lower courts were not free to consider doctrinal developments and the addition of a government interest that "children have an interest in being raised by their biological parents."
Judge Holmes concurred separately to discuss why "animus" was not an appropriate analysis. Judge Holmes notes that the district judge "wisely" did not rely on animus, and that most of the other decisions invalidating same-sex marriage laws have "exercised the same forebearance." But, he noted, several other district judges have relied on animus, citing Baskin v. Bogan, Henry v. Himes, DeLeon v. Perry, and Obergefell v. Wymyslo - - - interestingly none of which are in the Tenth Circuit - - - and he used the concurrence to endeavor "to clarify the relationship between animus doctrine and same-sex marriage laws and to explain why the district court made the correct decision in declining to rely upon the animus doctrine."
In his relatively brief partially dissenting opinion, Judge Paul Kelly contended that there was no standing to challenge the constitutional amendment absent a challenge to the statute and would not reach the merits. However, he also disagreed on the merits, as he did in the panel's decision in Kitchen v. Herbert. For Judge Kelly, as he phrases it here:
Removing gender complementarity from the historical definition of marriage is simply contrary to the careful analysis prescribed by the Supreme Court when it comes to substantive due process. Absent a fundamental right, traditional rational basis equal protection principles should apply, and apparently as a majority of this panel believes, the Plaintiffs cannot prevail on that basis. Thus, any change in the definition of marriage rightly belongs to the people of Oklahoma, not a federal court.
This will be the heart of the matter when - - - rather than if - - - these cases reach the United States Supreme Court. For now, however, the Tenth Circuit stayed its "mandate pending the disposition of any subsequently-filed petition for writ of certiorari."