25 March 2013

Law in Plain English: Hollingsworth v. Perry (Prop 8 preview)

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

UPDATE: A summary of the Supreme Court's decision is here.

For a preview of the other same sex marriage case, United States v. Windsor, see here.


In 2008, Californians passed Proposition 8, which amended the California constitution to prohibit same sex marriage. Perry and her spouse and another same sex couple filed suit, alleging that Prop 8 violated the Fourteenth Amendment. California refused to defend the constitutionality, but the District Court allowed Hollingsworth and other residents, who had placed Prop 8 on the ballot, to intervene and defend the law. The District Court found that Prop 8 violated both the Due Process Clause, because the state had no compelling interest in denying the right to marry to same sex couples; and the Equal Protection Clause, because there was no rational basis for limiting the designation of marriage to opposite-sex couples. The results below, and the decision by California not to defend the law, raises two questions before the Court: first, whether Hollingsworth has standing to defend Prop 8; and second, whether the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits California from defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. It is important to note that the first question is a threshold question, meaning it must be decided in the affirmative for the Supreme Court to consider the constitutionality question. If the Court decides that Hollingsworth couldn't intervene to defend the law because he didn't have standing, then the Court could not decide on the constitutionality of Prop 8 (the other same sex marriage case involves DOMA and doesn't implicate Prop 8). The outcome is likely to be one of five choices; for a fuller understanding of all of the options at the disposal of the Supreme Court, see here.
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