David Cole: Deciding Not to Decide Gay Marriage

Roundup: Historians' Take
tags: NYT, gay rights, same-sex marriage, David Cole

David Cole is a professor of law at Georgetown University.

THE Supreme Court will begin hearing two days of oral arguments today on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the 2008 initiative that banned same-sex marriage in California, and on the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that forbids federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

DOMA poses easier legal issues. The statute, which President Obama believes is unconstitutional and which has been repudiated by Bill Clinton, who signed it, inserted the federal government into marriage law, historically the domain of the states. It was clearly driven by antigay animus, and as lower courts have ruled, there simply is no good reason for Congress to refuse to treat all state-recognized marriages equally.

The Prop 8 case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, poses thornier questions about political equality, and could have much broader consequences, because it calls into question the rights of all states to limit marriages to unions between men and women. I fully support marriage equality. But, strange as it may sound, I believe that in the Prop 8 case, the court should decide not to decide the gay marriage issue at all. The proposition has already been struck down by federal judges at the trial and appellate levels, the governor and attorney general of California have refused to defend the proposition and the parties seeking the Supreme Court’s review lack the legal capacity, or standing, to pursue the case....

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