The NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund (LDF) has long argued that the discriminatory history of racial restrictions on the right to marry illustrate how the exclusion of lesbian and gay couples from marriage perpetuates and enforces a caste system that violates our constitutional guarantees of freedom and equality.
In 1967, the United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Loving v. Virginia, in which LDF participated as amicus curiae, that laws prohibiting marriage for interracial couples are unconstitutional and violate the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. In striking down this lasting and notorious form of discrimination, the Court recognized that the freedom to marry belongs to “all the State’s citizens.”
Historically, slaves and, later, interracial couples were also denied the right to marry – a barrier that played a crucial role in maintaining our nation’s system of racial caste. Today, prohibitions against marriage for same-sex couples are similarly designed to relegate lesbian and gay couples to an unequal and inferior legal and social status. Indeed, the same baseless and offensive accusations proffered by opponents of marriage equality – that prohibitions on marriage for lesbian and gay couples are necessary to protect children – are premised on the notion that certain couples make for inferior parents and were similarly invoked by Virginia in 1967 in defense of its anti-miscegenation laws.
LDF has long argued that the Loving decision recognizes the fundamental right of every individual, including lesbians and gay men, to marry the person of his or her choice. Since 1996, LDF has participated as amicus curiae in cases across the nation that affect the rights of lesbians and gay men including the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Second, Fourth, Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth Circuits (here and here), and state courts in California (here and here), Maryland, and New York. LDF will continue to argue that marriage discrimination violates the Equal Protection Clause until all Americans are guaranteed the fundamental right to marry the individual he or she loves.
In a major victory, on June 26, 2013 the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA). The Court ruled in United States v. Windsor that the federal government cannot discriminate against lesbian and gay couples who are legally married under state law by denying them federal benefits, including Social Security survivor benefits, immigration rights, and family leave. LDF filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Court to strike DOMA because it intentionally relegates gays and lesbians to inferior social status.
LDF also joined a coalition of civil rights groups that submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the case challenging California’s state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage known as Proposition 8. The brief argued that the Court should apply heightened scrutiny to laws, such as Proposition 8, that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. LDF also filed a friend-of-the-court brief when the case was being heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.