Original Meaning and Marriage Equality
54 Pages Posted: 24 Feb 2015
Date Written: February 23, 2015
In the 2014 Term, the Supreme Court is hearing challenges to four state exclusions of same-sex couples from their marriage law and other family law protections. Unlike the circuit judges who have evaluated these claims, the Justices find relevant the original meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. Many opponents of Marriage Equality for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgender persons assume that original meaning is hostile to such claims. In this article, Professor Eskridge maintains that the original meaning supports the marriage equality claims. While the drafters of the Equal Protection Clause had no “expectations” that states in 1868 would have to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the term they adopted (“equal protection”) had an established meaning: the state cannot create a caste regime arbitrarily marking a whole class of worthy persons as outside the normal protections of the law. This original meaning has bite today that it would not have had in 1868. In the twentieth century, states created a terrifying anti-homosexual caste regime, whose deep norm was that gay persons are anti-family. In the twenty-first century, much of this caste regime has been dismantled, but new and sweeping family law exclusions such as those before the Court are recent expressions of that regime and should be skeptically examined by the Justices.
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