On Friday, 6 March 2015, Marriage Equality USA filed an amicus brief in the United States Supreme Court in support of the freedom to marry nationwide and full equality under the Constitution for LGBTQ people. The brief joins briefs filed by plaintiffs and numerous other supporters of the freedom to marry that together present an irrefutable case for equality to the Supreme Court in the landmark lawsuits the Court will decide this year.
Empowering LGBTQ people to tell their own stories and to advocate in their own voices has always been a central mission of Marriage Equality USA. In our Supreme Court brief, LGBTQ couples across the country, from Florida to Iowa to Oregon, reveal how discrimination has harmed them and how equality has brought them personal dignity and legal protections that they had never had before. Their voices attest to the transformative power of legal equality in people’s lives.
Voices in the brief include:
* An LGBTQ couple in their 90s, who for 70 years told no one of their relationship until they decided to marry.
* A young LGBTQ couple, raising four children, who had been unable to live together as a family because of their home state’s law that excludes same-sex couples from marrying. Marriage equality coming to their state meant that they could finally live together as a family.
* An LGBTQ couple who married in California where they made their home for years, but when the Great Recession hit needed to move to live with family in a state without equality. In the process, they lost not just their jobs and their home – they lost full recognition and respect for their marriage. They look to the Supreme Court for a nationwide decision that restores their equality.
A central theme of the brief is that Americans’ right to marry and to have their government accord them the highest respect and recognition for their relationship should derive inherently from their humanity and not the particularities of their gender, gender identity or sexual orientation. As recounted in the brief, Juan Rodriguez upon marrying his partner of 36 years, Nelson, in New York, put it this way: “There is love, and love doesn’t have sex, or color or anything.” And Doug Flanders, who married his partner of ten years, Carmine Caruso, in Boise, Idaho, said: “I see it as equal rights …. Somebody being able to walk in … no matter who you are, and get a marriage license ….”
The brief also stresses the importance of the freedom to marry being a federal constitutional right, enforceable in all 50 states and all U.S. territories. Indeed, we are not just citizens of the state in which we live; we are Americans. The current patchwork of state marriage laws means that some Americans can marry while others cannot. When LGBTQ couples living in a state with equality cross the state line to a state without equality, they lose critical rights and protections and sacrifice part of their dignity.
When LGBTQ Americans do not have equal rights wherever they go in the country, they are deprived of part of their identity as members of the national community to which all Americans should be entitled. As recounted in the brief, when Jennifer Hassler and Karina Tittjung of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma were finally able to obtain a marriage license, Jennifer said: “We are all human beings. We should all take care of each other and love each other. This license … makes me feel like I’m a human being recognized in these great United States.”
The voices of LGBTQ Americans in the brief also describe how the dignity that the freedom to marry instills in LGBTQ Americans is not just the pride of getting married but the dignity that their government is finally treating them as equal human beings as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans, something many of them have never experienced before. In the brief, Leigh Hessel recounts her wedding in California to her longtime partner Candace Krueger and describes: “As we took our marriage vows and exchanged our rings, we realized that we had never thought these words would ever apply to us as lesbians. Finally, they did….We and our community had finally arrived. ”
That sense of dignity is incomplete unless LGBTQ people receive the same measure of respect in every way in which they interact with the government. For instance, being able to marry does little for an LGBTQ state employee, if their state can turn around and fire them as soon as they say “I do.” It does little for families headed by LGBTQ parents, if their home state grants them a marriage license but can deny them joint adoption of their child.
This year’s landmark cases present the Supreme Court with the opportunity to say once and for all that the liberty and equality guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution extend fully to LGBTQ Americans. In its decision holding that so-called “sodomy” laws were unconstitutional, the Supreme Court described how those who drafted the Fourteenth Amendment knew that “time can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress. As the Constitution endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom.”
With the briefs filed before the Supreme Court, plaintiffs, Marriage Equality USA and the other supporters of equality raise their voices collectively to invoke the principles of the Constitution in this generation. Together, we look to the Supreme Court to fulfill the Fourteenth Amendment’s promise of liberty and equality not only for this generation, but for generations to come.
The Supreme Court will hold oral arguments in the marriage equality cases on April 28, with a decision expected by the end of June.
John Lewis and his husband were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. John is an attorney and is the MEUSA Legal & Policy Director. He is the primary author of the Amicus Brief MEUSA submitted to SCOTUS. The photos in the article show John working on the Amicus Brief.