Perry v. Schwarzenegger/12:Conclusions of Law--Due Process

III

CONCLUSIONS OF LAW[3]

Plaintiffs challenge Proposition 8 under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Each challenge is independently meritorious, as Proposition 8 both unconstitutionally burdens the exercise of the fundamental right to marry and creates an irrational classification on the basis of sexual orientation.

DUE PROCESS

The Due Process Clause provides that no "State [shall] deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." US Const Amend XIV, § 1. Due process protects individuals against arbitrary governmental intrusion into life, liberty or property. See Washington v Glucksberg, 521 US 702, 719-720 (1997). When legislation burdens the exercise of a right deemed to be fundamental, the government must show that the [p. 110] intrusion withstands strict scrutiny. Zablocki v Redhail, 434 US 374, 388 (1978).

THE RIGHT TO MARRY PROTECTS AN INDIVIDUAL'S CHOICE OF MARITAL PARTNER REGARDLESS OF GENDER

The freedom to marry is recognized as a fundamental right protected by the Due Process Clause. See, for example, Turner v Safely, 482 US 78, 95 (1987) ("[T]he decision to marry is a fundamental right" and marriage is an "expression[ ] of emotional support and public commitment."); Zablocki, 434 US at 384 (1978) ("The right to marry is of fundamental importance for all individuals."); Cleveland Board of Education v LaFleur, 414 US 632, 639-40 (1974) ("This Court has long recognized that freedom of personal choice in matters of marriage and family life is one of the liberties protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment."); Loving v Virginia, 388 US 1, 12 (1967) (The "freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men."); Griswold v Connecticut, 381 US 479, 486 (1965) ("Marriage is a coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred. It is an association that promotes a way of life, not causes; a harmony in living, not political faiths; a bilateral loyalty, not commercial or social projects. Yet it is an association for as noble a purpose as any involved in our prior decisions.").

The parties do not dispute that the right to marry is fundamental. The question presented here is whether plaintiffs seek to exercise the fundamental right to marry; or, because they [p. 111] are couples of the same sex, whether they seek recognition of a new right.

To determine whether a right is fundamental under the Due Process Clause, the court inquires into whether the right is rooted "in our Nation's history, legal traditions, and practices." Glucksberg, 521 US at 710. Here, because the right to marry is fundamental, the court looks to the evidence presented at trial to determine: (1) the history, tradition and practice of marriage in the United States; and (2) whether plaintiffs seek to exercise their right to marry or seek to exercise some other right. Id.

Marriage has retained certain characteristics throughout the history of the United States. See FF 19, 34-35. Marriage requires two parties to give their free consent to form a relationship, which then forms the foundation of a household. FF 20, 34. The spouses must consent to support each other and any dependents. FF 34-35, 37. The state regulates marriage because marriage creates stable households, which in turn form the basis of a stable, governable populace. FF 35-37. The state respects an individual's choice to build a family with another and protects the relationship because it is so central a part of an individual's life. See Bowers v Hardwick, 478 US 186, 204-205 (1986) (Blackmun, J, dissenting).

Never has the state inquired into procreative capacity or intent before issuing a marriage license; indeed, a marriage license is more than a license to have procreative sexual intercourse. FF 21. "[I]t would demean a married couple were it to be said marriage is simply about the right to have sexual intercourse." Lawrence, 539 US at 567. The Supreme Court [p. 112] recognizes that, wholly apart from procreation, choice and privacy play a pivotal role in the marital relationship. See Griswold, 381 US at 485-486.

Race restrictions on marital partners were once common in most states but are now seen as archaic, shameful or even bizarre. FF 23-25. When the Supreme Court invalidated race restrictions in Loving, the definition of the right to marry did not change. 388 US at 12. Instead, the Court recognized that race restrictions, despite their historical prevalence, stood in stark contrast to the concepts of liberty and choice inherent in the right to marry. Id.

The marital bargain in California (along with other states) traditionally required that a woman's legal and economic identity be subsumed by her husband's upon marriage under the doctrine of coverture; this once-unquestioned aspect of marriage now is regarded as antithetical to the notion of marriage as a union of equals. FF 26-27, 32. As states moved to recognize the equality of the sexes, they eliminated laws and practices like coverture that had made gender a proxy for a spouse's role within a marriage. FF 26-27, 32. Marriage was thus transformed from a male-dominated institution into an institution recognizing men and women as equals. Id. Yet, individuals retained the right to marry; that right did not become different simply because the institution of marriage became compatible with gender equality.

The evidence at trial shows that marriage in the United States traditionally has not been open to same-sex couples. The evidence suggests many reasons for this tradition of exclusion, including gender roles mandated through coverture, FF 26-27, social disapproval of same-sex relationships, FF 74, and the reality that [p. 113] the vast majority of people are heterosexual and have had no reason to challenge the restriction, FF 43. The evidence shows that the movement of marriage away from a gendered institution and toward an institution free from state-mandated gender roles reflects an evolution in the understanding of gender rather than a change in marriage. The evidence did not show any historical purpose for excluding same-sex couples from marriage, as states have never required spouses to have an ability or willingness to procreate in order to marry. FF 21. Rather, the exclusion exists as an artifact of a time when the genders were seen as having distinct roles in society and in marriage. That time has passed.

The right to marry has been historically and remains the right to choose a spouse and, with mutual consent, join together and form a household. FF 19-20, 34-35. Race and gender restrictions shaped marriage during eras of race and gender inequality, but such restrictions were never part of the historical core of the institution of marriage. FF 33. Today, gender is not relevant to the state in determining spouses' obligations to each other and to their dependents. Relative gender composition aside, same-sex couples are situated identically to opposite-sex couples in terms of their ability to perform the rights and obligations of marriage under California law. FF 48. Gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage; marriage under law is a union of equals.

Plaintiffs seek to have the state recognize their committed relationships, and plaintiffs' relationships are consistent with the core of the history, tradition and practice of marriage in the United States. Perry and Stier seek to be spouses; [p. 114] they seek the mutual obligation and honor that attend marriage, FF 52. Zarrillo and Katami seek recognition from the state that their union is "a coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred." Griswold, 381 US at 486. Plaintiffs' unions encompass the historical purpose and form of marriage. Only the plaintiffs' genders relative to one another prevent California from giving their relationships due recognition.

Plaintiffs do not seek recognition of a new right. To characterize plaintiffs' objective as "the right to same-sex marriage" would suggest that plaintiffs seek something different from what opposite-sex couples across the state enjoy —— namely, marriage. Rather, plaintiffs ask California to recognize their relationships for what they are: marriages.

DOMESTIC PARTNERSHIPS DO NOT SATISFY CALIFORNIA'S OBLIGATION TO ALLOW PLAINTIFFS TO MARRY

Having determined that plaintiffs seek to exercise their fundamental right to marry under the Due Process Clause, the court must consider whether the availability of Registered Domestic Partnerships fulfills California's due process obligation to same-sex couples. The evidence shows that domestic partnerships were created as an alternative to marriage that distinguish same-sex from opposite-sex couples. FF 53-54; In re Marriage Cases, 183 P3d 384, 434 (Cal 2008) (One of the "core elements of th[e] fundamental right [to marry] is the right of same-sex couples to have their official family relationship accorded the same dignity, respect, and stature as that accorded to all other officially recognized family relationships."); id at 402, 434, 445 (By "reserving the [p. 115] historic and highly respected designation of marriage exclusively to opposite-sex couples while offering same-sex couples only the new and unfamiliar designation of domestic partnership," the state communicates the "official view that [same-sex couples'] committed relationships are of lesser stature than the comparable relationships of opposite-sex couples."). Proponents do not dispute the "significant symbolic disparity between domestic partnership and marriage." Doc #159-2 at 6.

California has created two separate and parallel institutions to provide couples with essentially the same rights and obligations. Cal Fam Code § 297.5(a). Domestic partnerships are not open to opposite-sex couples unless one partner is at least sixty-two years old. Cal Fam Code § 297(b)(5)(B). Apart from this limited exception —— created expressly to benefit those eligible for benefits under the Social Security Act —— the sole basis upon which California determines whether a couple receives the designation "married" or the designation "domestic partnership" is the sex of the spouses relative to one another. Compare Cal Fam Code §§ 297-299.6 (domestic partnership) with §§ 300-536 (marriage). No further inquiry into the couple or the couple's relationship is required or permitted. Thus, California allows almost all opposite-sex couples only one option —— marriage —— and all same-sex couples only one option —— domestic partnership. See id, FF 53-54.

The evidence shows that domestic partnerships do not fulfill California's due process obligation to plaintiffs for two reasons. First, domestic partnerships are distinct from marriage and do not provide the same social meaning as marriage. FF 53-54. [p. 116] Second, domestic partnerships were created specifically so that California could offer same-sex couples rights and benefits while explicitly withholding marriage from same-sex couples. Id, Cal Fam Code § 297 (Gov Davis 2001 signing statement: "In California, a legal marriage is between a man and a woman.... This [domestic partnership] legislation does nothing to contradict or undermine the definition of a legal marriage.").

The evidence at trial shows that domestic partnerships exist solely to differentiate same-sex unions from marriages. FF 53-54. A domestic partnership is not a marriage; while domestic partnerships offer same-sex couples almost all of the rights and responsibilities associated with marriage, the evidence shows that the withholding of the designation "marriage" significantly disadvantages plaintiffs. FF 52-54. The record reflects that marriage is a culturally superior status compared to a domestic partnership. FF 52. California does not meet its due process obligation to allow plaintiffs to marry by offering them a substitute and inferior institution that denies marriage to same-sex couples.

PROPOSITION 8 IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL BECAUSE IT DENIES PLAINTIFFS A FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT WITHOUT A LEGITIMATE (MUCH LESS COMPELLING) REASON

Because plaintiffs seek to exercise their fundamental right to marry, their claim is subject to strict scrutiny. Zablocki, 434 US at 388. That the majority of California voters supported Proposition 8 is irrelevant, as "fundamental rights may not be submitted to [a] vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections." West Virginia State Board of Education v Barnette, 319 [p. 117] US 624, Under strict scrutiny, the state bears the burden of producing evidence to show that Proposition 8 is narrowly tailored to a compelling government interest. Carey v Population Services International, 431 US 678, 686 (1977). Because the government defendants declined to advance such arguments, proponents seized the role of asserting the existence of a compelling California interest in Proposition 8.

As explained in detail in the equal protection analysis, Proposition 8 cannot withstand rational basis review. Still less can Proposition 8 survive the strict scrutiny required by plaintiffs' due process claim. The minimal evidentiary presentation made by proponents does not meet the heavy burden of production necessary to show that Proposition 8 is narrowly tailored to a compelling government interest. Proposition 8 cannot, therefore, withstand strict scrutiny. Moreover, proponents do not assert that the availability of domestic partnerships satisfies plaintiffs' fundamental right to marry; proponents stipulated that "[t]here is a significant symbolic disparity between domestic partnership and marriage." Doc #159-2 at 6. Accordingly, Proposition 8 violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

NotesEdit

3 ^ . To the extent any of the conclusions of law should more properly be considered findings of fact, they shall be deemed as such.