26 June 2013

Law in Plain English: Hollingsworth v. Perry

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.

My preview of the case is 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, raised two questions before the Court: first, whether Hollingsworth had standing to defend Prop 8; and second, whether the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibited California from defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. It is important to note that the first question was threshold question, meaning it must be decided in the affirmative for the Supreme Court to consider the constitutionality question. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Hollingsworth did not have standing to appeal. As a result, the Ninth Circuit's decision was reversed and remanded. The practical impact of this decision is that same sex marriage will be permitted in California, because the petitioners do not have standing to defend the law. This is a narrow ruling that will not apply outside of California.
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