Utah District Court Agrees With Scalia’s Windsor Dissent, Strikes Down SSM Ban

December 20th, 2013

I doubt Scalia is amused that he was right about this one.

The Constitution’s protection of the individual rights of gay and lesbian citizens is equally dispositive whether this protection requires a court to respect a state law, as in Windsor, or strike down a state law, as the Plaintiffs ask the court to do here. In his dissenting opinion, the Honorable Antonin Scalia recognized that this result was the logical outcome of the Court’s ruling in Windsor:

In my opinion, however, the view that this Court will take of state prohibition of same-sex marriage is indicated beyond mistaking by today’s opinion. As I have said, the real rationale of today’s opinion . . . is that DOMA is motivated by “bare . . . desire to harm” couples in same-sex marriages. How easy it is, indeed how inevitable, to reach the same conclusion with regard to state laws denying same- sex couples marital status.

133 S. Ct. at 2709 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). The court agrees with Justice Scalia’s interpretation of Windsor and finds that the important federalism concerns at issue here are nevertheless insufficient to save a state-law prohibition that denies the Plaintiffs their rights to due process and equal protection under the law. 

Update: And interestingly enough, the court applied the “standard rational basis test,” meaning not Romer.

In any event, the theory of heightened scrutiny that the Plaintiffs advocate is not necessary to the court’s determination of Amendment 3’s constitutionality. The court has already held that Amendment 3 burdens the Plaintiffs’ fundamental right to marriage and is therefore subject to strict scrutiny. And, as discussed below, the court finds that Amendment 3 bears no rational relationship to any legitimate state interests and therefore fails rational basis review. It may be that some laws neither burden a fundamental right nor target a suspect class, but nevertheless impose a discrimination of such unusual character that a court must review a challenge to such a law with careful consideration. But the court’s analysis here does not hinge on that type of heightened review. The court therefore proceeds to apply the well-settled rational basis test to Amendment 3.

The Plaintiffs have presented a number of compelling arguments demonstrating that the court should be more skeptical of Amendment 3 than of typical legislation. The law differentiates on the basis of sex and closely resembles the type of law containing discrimination of an unusual character that the Supreme Court struck down in Romer and Windsor. But even without applying heightened scrutiny to Amendment 3, the court finds that the law discriminates on the basis of sexual identity without a rational reason to do so. Because Amendment 3 fails even rational basis review, the court finds that Utah’s prohibition on same-sex marriage violates the Plaintiffs’ right to equal protection under the law.