Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic Hails Marriage Equality Ruling

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NEW YORK (May 16, 2008) – Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic applauds Thursday’s ruling by the California Supreme Court striking down the state’s unconstitutional “separate but equal” scheme of marriage and domestic partnerships. The Clinic emphatically endorses the court’s conclusion that same-sex couples must be “accorded dignity and respect equal to that accorded other officially recognized families.”

The victory is particularly meaningful to the Columbia Law School community because Professor Suzanne B. Goldberg, director of the Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic, along with students in the Clinic, co-wrote an amicus curiae brief in the case on behalf of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force.

“The California Supreme Court got it right when it rejected the state’s claim that it could reserve the ‘marriage’ label for only some of its constituent couples,” said Professor Goldberg, “We argued, and the court agreed, that no matter how similar the tangible benefits of domestic partnerships are to marriage benefits, the state had effectively labeled gays and lesbians as outsiders by refusing them access to marriage, as though they were not worthy, deserving, or fit for full inclusion into the community of citizens united in marriage.”

The court considered it central that, in California, marriage, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation, is a fundamental right. California has a history of leading the country in protecting such fundamental rights, as it did when it became the first state to rule that anti-miscegenation (mixed-race marriage) laws were unconstitutional in the 1948 case Perez v. Sharp—nearly twenty years before the United States Supreme Court reached the same conclusion. 

“We believe that it is simply irrational to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, although the court’s decision focused on the state’s lack of a compelling, rather than rational, reason to justify the marriage law’s discrimination,” said Amos Blackman ’08, a student who contributed to the brief. “But it is nonetheless a ground-breaking decision, and one that will undoubtedly improve the lives of all Californians, married or not.”

California is now the second state, after Massachusetts, to find a one-man, one-woman marriage requirement to be unconstitutional. Unlike in Massachusetts, however, Californians may have an opportunity to reverse the decision this year through an amendment to the state constitution. In Massachusetts, the constitutional amendment process takes several years and appears to have lost traction with legislators and voters there.

Eddie Jauregui ’07, a California native and co-author of the brief, expressed hope that the people of California would recognize that marriage equality strengthens families and benefits the state as a whole. “I don’t doubt that there will be a vocal and organized opposition to marriage equality,” said Jauregui, “but California has been on the front lines of equal justice before and my hope is that we will be again.”

The Connecticut and Iowa Supreme Courts have similar cases pending before them now, and the Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic has submitted amicus briefs in both of those cases as well. 

The Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic at Columbia Law School, founded in 2006, advocates for the rights of women and gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) people. Students in the Clinic participate in litigation, legislative and policy development, and educational outreach on legal issues that affect women and GLBT communities. The Clinic works with advocacy organizations and law firms on these issues at local, national, and international levels.

Columbia Law School, founded in 1858, stands at the forefront of legal education and of the law in a global society. Columbia Law School joins traditional strengths in international and comparative law, constitutional law, administrative law, business law and human rights law with pioneering work in the areas of intellectual property, digital technology, sexuality and gender, and criminal law.