Opening Briefs: Plaintiffs explain why marriage matters to the Supreme Court

Editor's Note: Freedom to Marry will be updating this post throughout the day as briefs are submitted.

Today, plaintiffs in the four cases before the United States Supreme Court will submit their briefs to the Court explaining why the freedom to marry matters.

On January 16, the United States Supreme Court granted review of an out-of-step ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, which ruled in November against the freedom to marry in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. In each of these cases, federal judges had ruled in favor of the freedom to marry for all, and the 6th Circuit reversed each decision.

The Supreme Court set a briefing schedule calling for plaintiffs' briefs today, February 27, the states' response briefs on March 27, and final reply briefs on April 17. The hearings in these cases will likely be scheduled for the last week in April, with a decision expected in late June.

Check out excerpts from each of the cases, and links to the full briefs:

KENTUCKY: Bourke v. Beshear & Love v. Beshear (filed by the ACLU and counsel from Clay Daniel Walton & Adams and Fauver Law Office): BRIEF

  • "Petitioners are same-sex couples from all walks of life. Some have been together for decades and are now retired and confronting end-of-life caregiving; some are middle-aged and are parenting their children through college; others are young and desire to start families of their own. They come together here to make no extreme demands. Instead, they ask merely to be treated like everyone else – that is, free to enter into society’s most revered form of mutual association and support, and worthy of the stature and crucial protections that marriage affords. They are met by calls for patience and judicial 'humility.'"
  • "The time has come to apply this principle to state laws excluding same-sex couples from the institution of marriage. As a result of exhaustive litigation across the country, it has become clear that these laws degrade lesbians, gay men, their children, and their families for no legitimate reason. The laws consign their most intimate and meaningful relationships – their very identities – to official disfavor."
  • "No matter how worded, any opinion upholding Kentucky’s marriage ban will inescapably be viewed as validating the Commonwealth’s decision to deny equal treatment to same-sex couples and their families. Hence, instead of preserving the status quo, a decision upholding Kentucky’s marriage ban would have the practical effect of re-imposing inequality in many states where same-sex couples currently have access to the same status and dignity as all other committed couples."
  • "Imagine, for instance, a married woman who lives in Louisville, Kentucky, but works across the river in Indiana. If Kentucky refuses to recognize her marriage because her spouse is a woman, and she is involved in a serious accident while commuting to the office, her spouse’s hospital visitation rights will likely turn on which side of the bridge the accident occurred. This makes no sense. When two people join their lives together through marriage, they vow mutual support and care without reference to state lines. Kentucky’s recognition ban undermines that commitment and creates searing uncertainty for the couple."

OHIO: Obergefell v. Hodges (filed by the ACLU, Lambda Legal, and counsel from Gerhardstein & Branch Co., LPA and Newman & Meeks Co., LPA): BRIEF

  • "Petitioners married seeking a cherished status that protects families throughout life, from cradle to grave. But Ohio refuses to respect the dignity and status conferred on Petitioners‘ marriages by other states. From the start of the marriage to the birth of children to the death of one spouse and beyond, Ohio erases the legal relationships of Petitioners‘ families. Ohio treats these spouses as legal strangers to one another and recognizes only one member of each couple as the legal parent to their children. Ohio even cruelly refuses to recognize Petitioners‘ marriages on death certificates when one spouse dies. Through its marriage recognition bans, Ohio strikes out at a class of individuals whose intimate, personal relationships have been afforded a solemn and special status by other states—men and women who love and marry a person of the same sex."
  • "The Petitioners, their children, and many like them have waited too long already. Ohio widowers James Obergefell and David Michener ran out of time when death took their spouses. The infants born to the Henry-Rogers, Yorksmith, and NoeMcCracken families could not wait to arrive in this world until a majority voted that their parents‘ marriages would be honored. And Adopted Baby Doe could not wait for a home until a majority of Ohioans chose to recognize the marriage of his New York adoptive fathers. No more children should be demeaned by states like Ohio; no more loving spouses should die without the dignity that accompanies respect for their marriages, while the democratic process grinds its slow way towards justice. Following in the path of United States v. Windsor, which held that guarantees of liberty and equality prohibit the federal government from demeaning the dignity and integrity of the families of married same-sex spouses, 133 S. Ct. 2675, 2695-96 (2013), this Court should declare the Ohio bans on marriage recognition unconstitutional."

TENNESSEE: Tanco v. Haslam (filed by the National Center for Lesbian Rights): BRIEF

  • "Marriage is an institution of profound emotional and cultural significance and also one of intensely practical and legal import, affecting nearly every aspect of a married couple’s life together. The Constitution shields from state interference the privacy of the marital couple to make many personal, intimate choices within marriage, including those related to parenthood, procreation, and physical intimacy. Accordingly, the Court has recognized that one’s choice of spouse enjoys constitutional protection and has struck down state laws excluding various groups from entering marriage. The Court also has affirmed that the Constitution protects married couples’ liberty and dignity interests in their existing marriages."
  •  "Despite these protections, Tennessee contends that same-sex couples who married out of state may be stripped of legal recognition of their marriages upon entering Tennessee because the State has traditionally excluded same-sex couples from marriage. The Court should reject that proposition. This Court has repeatedly struck down laws founded on 'traditions' that demeaned and unjustifiably excluded disfavored groups, or limited individuals’ ability to share in the same rights and benefits that others enjoy."
  • "By stripping same-sex couples of their marital status as a condition of entry into the State, Tennessee has violated the most fundamental premises that tie us together as a single Nation. Non-recognition laws are currently inflicting serious injuries on thousands of families in the minority of states that continue to exclude same-sex couples from marriage. Contrary to the court of appeals’ view, there is no justification to 'wait and see' what 'the long term impact' of including same-sex couples within marriage will be. It is beyond question that the exclusion of same-sex couples is harming those couples and their families in both the short term and the long term. This Court should not permit any state to deprive another generation of lesbian and gay persons of the opportunity to participate fully in marriage."

MICHIGAN: Deboer V. Snyder (filed by Carole M. Stanyar; Dana Nessel of Nessel and Kessel Law; Kenneth Mogill of Mogill, Posner & Cohen; Wayne State University Law Professor Robert Sedler; and Mary Bonauto of the Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD)):BRIEF

  • "Michigan’s exclusion of same-sex couples from the freedom to marry profoundly affects the lives of Petitioners and thousands of other same-sex couples in Michigan who seek to make a binding commitment in the unique institution of marriage. This exclusion deprives same-sex couples of the dignity and common understanding that comes only with marriage as well as the substantial network of protections and reciprocal responsibilities afforded to married persons and their families. It harms children financially, legally, socially and psychologically. It stigmatizes and humiliates adults and children, it reduces the stability of relationships, and it deprives children of the protections of having two married parents."
  • "The overwhelming, well-documented social science consensus is that child outcomes depend on the quality of parenting and available parental resources, not the gender of the parents. Moreover, the marriage bans neither prevent same-sex couples from having or raising children nor induce heterosexuals to have more children, within or outside of marriage. No other group in society is required to establish its parenting skills in order to be eligible to marry."
  • "Petitioners are not seeking a right to “same-sex marriage.” They seek only an end to their exclusion from the existing fundamental right to marry. This Court’s jurisprudence makes clear that history is only the starting point, and not the ending point, of the substantive due process inquiry. There is now an emerging recognition that the guarantees of the Due Process Clause apply to the intimate personal choices and public commitments of same-sex couples. With same-sex couples now allowed to marry in thirty seven states, this Court has an opportunity and a duty to “correct an injustice” that people “had not earlier known or understood.”"

Freedom to Marry cheers on the plaintiffs and legal teams who have made their case to the U.S. Supreme Court and thanks them for their efforts. 

Learn all about the freedom to marry at the United States Supreme Court at