Supreme Court Hears Oral Argument in Case Challenging California's Discriminatory Prop 8

Find Your State

Know the laws in your state that protect LBGT people and people living with HIV.

Our Sponsors

"Powerful arguments for equality and justice filled the chamber in our nation's highest court – and it was thrilling."
March 26, 2013

(Washington, March 26, 2013) – The U.S. Supreme Court today heard oral arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the case challenging California's antigay Proposition 8.  Lambda Legal's Jon Davidson, Legal Director, and Jennifer Pizer, Law and Policy Director, attended oral arguments at the Court today and issued the following statements:

"Powerful arguments for equality and justice filled the chamber in our nation's highest court – and it was thrilling. The attorneys made it clear that Proposition 8 has visited profound harms on same-sex couples in California, and must be struck down. The lawyers for Prop 8 didn't have any more answers today than they did three years ago at the trial. Just today the Prop 8 lawyer made potentially a very damaging admission when he stated in response to a question from Justice Sotomayor that he could not think of any justification for treating same-sex couples differently for any circumstance outside of marriage -- that makes the case for heightened scrutiny." Davidson said.

"Just 10 years ago to the day, we were here arguing in Lawrence v. Texas against state sodomy statutes and for the right to forge personal relationships without fear of being branded a criminal," Davidson continued.  "Today, same-sex couples came before the Supreme Court to argue that their relationships must be treated equally under the law. We have come so far in this country - but until LGBT people have equality and dignity in every state, we still have far to go."

Added Pizer: "From the debate over whether Prop 8's supporters have standing to appeal, to the compelling arguments about the proper form of scrutiny for antigay laws like Prop 8, the justices have many reasons to conclude this discriminatory measure cannot stand.  When Prop 8 eliminated marriage for lesbians and gay men, it deliberately relegated this long disfavored group back into a subordinate caste, ending their too-brief taste of inclusion and equality.  And in stripping away a right previously granted by the California Constitution, the initiative excluded lesbians and gay men from the state's equality guarantee itself.  As we argued in our friend-of-the-court brief, Prop 8 literally violates the express command of the federal Equal Protection Clause."

"We congratulate our colleagues at the American Foundation for Equal Rights and Ted Olson and David Boies on a great day at the Supreme Court."

The amicus brief that Lambda Legal filed jointly with Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) argued also that, although laws such as Prop 8 that discriminate based on sexual orientation should be subjected to heightened scrutiny – a more rigorous standard of constitutional review – Proposition 8 does not even pass the less strict, rational basis standard.  That is so, the brief explained, because California has recognized that same-sex couples are similarly situated to different-sex couples when it comes to marriage's purposes and that relegating same-sex couples to the inferior status of domestic partnerships stigmatizes and harms them and their families. The brief argued that because Prop 8 had no purpose or effect other than to mark same-sex couples and their relationships as inferior, it violated federal equal protection under even rational basis review.

Lambda Legal, GLAD and other civil and LGBT rights organizations have been fighting for the freedom to marry for same-sex couples for decades – including the first historic victory in California in 2008.  Lambda Legal first fought for marriage equality in Hawaii almost 20 years ago, won a unanimous decision for marriage from the Iowa Supreme Court in 2009, and has ongoing marriage lawsuits in New Jersey, Illinois and Nevada. Lambda Legal has joined with multiple LGBT and civil rights organizations to file friend-of-the-court briefs throughout the course of the litigation in Hollingsworth v. Perry, brought by the American Foundation for Equal Rights and attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies, and its briefs were relied upon significantly in the historic Ninth Circuit decisions.