Obergefell's Squandered Potential
California Law Review Circuit, 2015
9 Pages Posted: 22 Sep 2015 Last revised: 12 Nov 2015
Date Written: November 10, 2015
This short essay critically assesses Justice Kennedy’s opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, which declared unconstitutional state laws and constitutional provisions barring same-sex couples from lawfully marrying within the state or having their lawful out-of-state marriages recognized by the state. While acknowledging the important role that Justice Kennedy has played in advancing the cause of gay rights over the past two decades — through his authorship of four separate decisions vindicating the rights of gays and lesbians — the essay critiques Justice Kennedy for failing in any of these cases to declare sexual orientation a suspect or quasi-suspect classification under the Equal Protection Clause. The essay considers and rejects a number of possible justifications for his failure to reach the issue in any of the gay rights cases. That failure has harmed gay and lesbian litigants in the past and will likely harm future litigants as well. While acknowledging Justice Kennedy’s important contributions to the field of gay rights, the essay concludes that he could have left a more stable and enduring legacy had he followed a different pathway in Obergefell.
Keywords: marriage equality, GLBT rights, LGBT rights, gay and lesbian rights, equal protection, suspect class, constitutional law, DOMA, fundamental rights, same-sex marriage
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