Amicus brief to Supreme Court explains churches’ interest in Prop 8 case

Among the submissions to the U.S. Supreme Court explaining why the federal Constitution does not require states to redefine marriage is an important amicus brief representing a number of religious denominations, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The groups explain their interest in the case as follows:

Tens of millions of Americans are represented in the diverse group of faith communities that join in this brief. Despite their theological differences, these communities are united in declaring that the traditional institution of marriage is essential to the welfare of the American family and society. This brief is submitted out of a shared conviction that the Fourteenth Amendment does not prohibit the people of each State from choosing for themselves whether to preserve the traditional definition of marriage.

Here is the summary of their argument taken from the brief:

Marriage defined as the union of one man and one woman is an axiom of Western civilization – not an attack on the civil rights of gays and lesbians. On the day California voters approved Proposition 8, no federal law prohibited them from restoring the ancient definition of marriage that had prevailed in the State for all but five months of its history. Reframing the people’s considered decision as an attack on civil rights employs a narrative of majority oppression that is powerful, resonant, and wrong. The true issue in the democratic debate over Proposition 8 was not oppression but a policy choice between different visions of marriage.

Proposition 8 is a measured response to the California Supreme Court’s decision declaring traditional male-female marriage unconstitutional as a matter of State law. It maintains robust legal protections for same-sex couples while restoring the traditional definition of marriage. Its return to the status quo ante belies the Ninth Circuit’s unfair and inaccurate description of Proposition 8 as a product of anti­gay animus. On the contrary, our members supported Proposition 8 based on sincere beliefs in the value of traditional marriage for children, families, society, and our republican form of government. Only a demeaning view of religion and religious believers could dismiss our advocacy of Proposition 8 as ignorance, prejudice, or animus.

Honest debate among reasonable people of good will explains why California voters adopted Proposition 8. Their reaffirmation of traditional marriage implicates a deep conflict between rival conceptions of marriage: between marriage conceived as a procreative, child-centered institution founded exclusively on the relationship of one man and one woman in which society has a profound stake, and marriage conceived (primarily) as a legal means of affirming intimate adult relationship choices. Support for traditional marriage is a rational position in that debate.

Proposition 8 is not invalid because it attracted support from religious voters and organizations or because it reflects a moral judgment consistent with certain religious beliefs. Legislation is judged by its purpose, not the lawmakers’ motivations, and no law is invalid simply because it happens to coincide with particular religious beliefs. Nor is Proposition 8 questionable because it embodies a moral judgment, since marriage laws fall within a State’s police power to regulate public morality.

Finally, Proposition 8 is valid for additional reasons the court of appeals did not consider. Judged by conventional rational-basis review, Proposition 8 reasonably serves the legitimate ends of restoring the definition of marriage congruent with the people’s moral sense and protecting the substantial expectation and reliance interests of opposite-sex couples in the traditional institution of marriage. Each of these rationales independently satisfies the Equal Protection Clause.

The entire brief is well worth the read. It lays out, in clear and concise language, why the groups represented supported Proposition 8 and why they support the marriage of one man and one woman.

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