A.G. Schneiderman Urges Supreme Court To Uphold The Right To Marry Nationwide

Multistate Brief Argues That Laws Barring Same-Sex Couples From Marrying Are Unconstitutional

NEW YORK – Attorney General Schneiderman joined a coalition of states in filing a friend of the court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court today, arguing that the U.S. Constitution’s promise of equal protection demands that same-sex couples have the right to marry across the country.

“The Supreme Court has an opportunity to cement a historic victory in one of the greatest movements for dignity and human rights in American history,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “Until marriage equality is the uniform law of the land, my office will fight to ensure justice under law. The time has come to expand access to marriage for all couples across our country.”

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey led the filing of the amicus on behalf of Massachusetts and 16 other jurisdictions, which was joined by New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. In total, 20 states joined briefs in support of the right to marry, including Hawaii, Minnesota, and Virginia, each of which filed a separate brief. These briefs were submitted in the cases of Obergefell v. Hodges, Tanco v. Haslam, DeBoer v. Snyder, and Bourke v. Beshear, all on appeal from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The cases have been scheduled for oral argument before the Supreme Court on April 28, 2015.

A total of 12 states still refuse to permit marriages between same-sex couples or to recognize same-sex marriages lawfully licensed by other states, including Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee, whose laws are now under review. However, 22 states permit and recognize same-sex marriages only because they are required to by federal court decisions finding their marriage bans unconstitutional. Unless the Supreme Court requires marriage equality nationwide, these states may no longer continue to permit and recognize same-sex marriages.

“The time has come for marriage equality nationwide,” the brief states, and “anything short of full and equal marriage rights would perpetuate the stigma and second-tier status that gay and lesbian couples currently experience.”

The states’ brief argues that the continued refusal by some states to license or recognize marriages between gay and lesbian couples inflicts widespread harm on these couples and their families, including those living in Massachusetts and other marriage equality states. Major life decisions made by married same-sex couples, including ones about education, employment, and residency, are affected by the non-recognition of their marriages. Many couples refuse to move to, or simply try to avoid, non-recognition states whenever possible.

The brief highlights grave and specific harms inflicted by states refusing to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples, including:

  • Not amending a birth certificate to include both spouses;
  • Allowing employers to deny access to health care coverage for spouses;
  • Denying the right to make decisions for or visit a spouse in the hospital;
  • Denying parental rights for one spouse; and
  • Not including a spouse on a death certificate

Previously, in 2013, Attorney General Schneiderman led a 16-state coalition in the filing of an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. v. Windsor, arguing against a key provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. In that case, the Supreme Court ultimately struck down that statute’s federal definition of “marriage” as being between one man and one woman.

Same-sex marriage has been legal in New York State since 2011, and the state’s experience attests to the benefits of expanding access to the institution to same-sex couples. As the brief argues, New York and the other signatory states “have experienced the positive outcomes of the evolution from marital exclusion to equality. The institution of marriage is strengthened when unnecessary and harmful restrictions are removed. Families are healthier and more secure when they can share in the benefits, protections, and obligations that attend marriage. And communities are enriched when all citizens have an equal opportunity to participate in civic life.”

Today's amicus brief can be read here.