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Local Group Weighs In on Marriage Equality Cases

March 13, 2013 By:
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A local Jewish organization has joined a coalition of national groups in filing briefs in support of marriage equality in two cases that are scheduled to go before the Supreme Court at the end of March.

The first case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, challenges the constitutionality of Proposition 8, a California ballot measure that states that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

The other case, United States v. Windsor, concerns the denial of federal benefits through the Defense of Marriage Act to gay and lesbian couples in states that allow them to marry.

Lynn Zeitlin, an attorney and the immediate past president of  the local Jewish Social Policy Action Network, spoke about the importance of the two cases and why the nonprofit organization decided to join the briefs, which were spearheaded by the Anti-Defamation League. Her responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

For those not familiar with Supreme Court proceedings, could you explain the significance of joining an amicus curiae brief in the two cases on same-sex marriage?

The purpose of the amicus briefs is to bring additional points of view to a case that the parties wouldn’t have themselves. The brief that we joined with the ADL is going to bring the Jewish social policy perspective on marriage equality.

Why did JSPAN choose to join these briefs?

JSPAN’s mission is to protect and defend the civil and constitutional rights of Jews, people that are discriminated against and people that are weak in our society. To the extent that any of these laws can impact Jews or a class that has been discriminated against historically, it is the best interest of all Jews to come to the aid and defense of the groups.

What do you predict will be the impact of the Supreme Court hearing the case challenging the Defense of Marriage Act?

It’s hard to predict what the court will do because you just can’t push the court until it’s ready to do what you want it to do. It really probably depends on Justice Anthony Kennedy. Most people think he will be the swing vote 5-4, either way. Based on his prior decisions, we’re hopeful that he will see that this law unfairly discriminates against LGBT people and that it’s unconstitutional. The idea of taking one part of a particular religion’s view of what constitutes marriage to the exclusion of many other religious organizations, including Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist Judaism that hold that marriage between a woman and woman is every bit as  valid as marriage between a man and woman. 

If you take a particular religion’s view of what a marriage is, aren’t you basically establishing a religious point of view to be enacted into law and doesn’t that violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution?

What about Proposition 8? Much of the speculation has centered on whether the Supreme Court will decide to allow same-sex marriage in California but not require it elsewhere — or whether it will take a broader stance and address the constitutionality of same-sex marriage in all states. What do you envision happening?

It’s hard to say. We fear that what will happen is the court may limit the decision to California. That would be the more conservative ruling that the court could make in terms of California, but what does that mean for the other states?

There’s always an issue whether the Supreme Court should be forcing social justice on an unwilling society. Here I don’t think they would be at all ahead of the curve and I think they probably know that. I’m sure that they are reading the same things about the changes in public opinion on marriage equality. The country is moving toward fairness and equal treatment of all people, and it will happen one way or another, and hopefully sooner rather than later. 

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