Stephen Dunne, 30, flunked the Massachusetts bar exam and now says it was because he refused on principle to answer an exam question concerning the rights of two married lesbians, their children and property. He claims the hypothetical, which concludes with the question “What are the rights of Mary and Jane?”, violated his First Amendment rights and served as a “screening device” to exclude persons like himself who disapprove on religious grounds of the state’s gay marriage law. “But Boston attorney Tom Dacey doesn’t believe the case will go very far. … ‘Lawyers have to answer questions about legal principles they disagree with all the time, and that doesn’t mean we’re endorsing them,’ said Dacey, a director of Goulston & Storrs’ litigation group. ‘You might be somebody who is morally opposed to divorce, but have to interpret the divorce laws of the commonwealth to answer a question about who property is passed to.'” (Donna Goodison, “Bar-exam flunker sues: Wannabe rejects gay-wed question, law”, Boston Herald, Jul. 6 and sidebar; AP/TheBostonChannel.com, Jul. 6).
As we noted back on Mar. 20, 2005, some Religious Right campaigners appear to have talked out of both sides of their mouths on the question of whether their proposed anti-gay-marriage amendments in states like Michigan would put an end to the availability of existing health insurance benefits for the domestic partners of employees at public entities such as cities and universities. When urging voters to approve Proposal 2, these campaigners suggested that the measure would leave existing benefits undisturbed; once it was on the books, they supported efforts to invoke it to nullify the benefits. Now a Michigan appeals court has agreed that Proposal 2 does ban public-employee DP benefits. Ed Brayton of Dispatches from the Culture Wars has details (Jul. 5, 2006; Feb. 4 and Feb. 5, 2007; see also Nov. 22, 2006) on the, um, fancy footwork engaged in by two Religious Right litigation groups, the Thomas More Law Center and the Alliance Defense Fund. For more, see John Corvino, “A tragic lie in Michigan”, Between the Lines/Independent Gay Forum, Feb. 8; Jonathan Cohn, “Spouse Abuse”, The New Republic, Feb. 15; Andrew Sullivan, Feb. 15.
“The irony in Virginia is that conservatives fearful of an out-of-control judiciary are in fact inviting the judiciary to get involved in micro-managing family law.” (David Boaz, “Marriage measure is an amendment too far”, Examiner.com, Oct. 30). For more of the many, many reasons to vote no, see Sept. 20, 2006, May 31 and Nov. 2, 2004, etc., etc.
As in earlier rounds (May 31 and Nov. 2, 2004, etc.), some proponents are advancing the view that despite its sweeping and ambiguous language, the amendment wouldn’t really endanger any existing legal rights of unmarried persons in Virginia. The Roanoke Times editorially rejects that view: “The legal views conflict sharply. This can mean just one thing: years of litigation under every facet of law that touches upon human interactions. In the antagonistic court arena, the relationships of families and friends will be ripped apart. … Voters should reject this unfair amendment, which has the potential for so many unintended consequences.” (“The anti-family amendment” (editorial), Roanoke Times, Sept. 19). See also Mar. 20, 2005 (sequence of events in Michigan).
Lawsuits filed against the city of Baltimore demand hundreds of millions of dollars, but the city pays out only a minute fraction of that sum — one of many reasons being that “the city caps awards for lawsuits at $200,000, save for intentional bad acts by city employees.” An editorial in the Baltimore Examiner quotes me on the subject (“Slow lawsuits; charge losers fees”, Jul. 13). For more on New York City’s tort predicament, see Jun. 15.
Last month Overlawyered.com was named “Web Site of the Day” by the Bulletin Board at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, one of the Twin Cities’ two big papers (Jun. 2). The British publication The Lawyer cited our coverage of Bill Lerach’s Enron fees (Jun. 5). And New York-based journalist Robert A. George (the “good” Robert George) calls this website “great”, though he erroneously thinks me a lawyer (Jun. 5).
I’ve also been quoted on same-sex marriage issues in a variety of venues, including by Lou Chibbaro Jr. in the Washington Blade (“Amendment bars states from marrying gay couples: experts”, Apr. 20); Jonathan Rauch at MarriageDebate.com (May 6); Andy Humm, “Gay Marriage Ruling Highlights a Changing Court”, Gotham Gazette, Jul. 10); and the Robert A. George post above. For more of my views on that subject, see Jun. 2, etc.
Among its other defects (see links gathered here), this misbegotten proposal would impose a single federalized outcome on states and localities which currently take widely differing views of same-sex marriage. Some FMA advocates have sought to depict the federalist objections to the amendment as mere makeweight and window dressing — tactical objections by opponents who dislike the proposal for its substance and are merely casting about for arguments against it. One hopes these advocates were suitably chastened in March when James Q. Wilson, doyen of conservative policy analysis, announced his opposition to the amendment citing exactly these federalist grounds:
The states should also decide about gay marriage. Some conservatives are urging Congress to propose a constitutional amendment banning this, but this would be a mistake. People should vote on this matter and about the conditions of life they wish to experience where they live. Though I oppose gay marriage, voters in some states may approve it. If they do, we will have a chance to learn what it means in practice, with the costs and benefits falling on people who have accepted it….
The rising demand that every personal preference become a constitutional right is a worrisome disease. People, of course, do have rights; the Constitution and the first ten amendments spell most of them out. That document defines the essential requirements of life and liberty. Adding new invented rights by either a ratified amendment or judicial overreaching is a mistake.
In Washington state, voters defeated I-330, a doctor-backed plan to limit medical malpractice awards and lawyers’ fees, by about a 54-46 margin, while also drubbing I-336. a lawyer-backed alternative (Seattle P-I, Seattle Times). California voters trounced, by a 61-39 margin, Proposition 79, which would have regulated drug prices via freelance lawsuits among other means; they defeated Proposition 78, a drug-industry-backed alternative, by nearly as wide a margin. (L.A. Times, Sacramento Bee). In Virginia, former Richmond mayor and Democrat Tim Kaine, who had been criticized by the American Justice Partnership (Nov. 2), won the governorship anyway (Wash. Post). Texas voters easily passed an anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment that Houston attorney Warren Cole, chairman of the State Bar of Texas’ family law section, called “horribly drafted” and which would prohibit the recognition of any “legal status” that is “similar to marriage” (more from Cathy Young)(see yesterday’s post) (Dallas Morning News) (cross-posted at Point of Law).
The Virginia legislature has voted to repeal the state’s law, the only one of its kind in the nation, prohibiting insurance companies from offering coverage of domestic partners as part of employer-provided health plans (see May 31, 2004, next-to-last paragraph). Gov. Mark Warner (D) has announced his intent to sign the bill. The Virginia Chamber of Commerce backed the repeal, citing principles of economic liberty: “If you believe in a free market, then restrictions like this don’t make any sense,” said Chamber vice president for public policy Stephen D. Haner. The repeal was strenuously opposed, however, by Religious Right figures such as Del. Robert Marshall (R-Manassas), and passed the House of Delegates by only a 49-48 margin (Pamela Stallsmith, “House backs letting firms extend health benefits”, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Feb. 25; Lou Chibbaro, Jr., “Va. DP ban repealed by 1 vote”, Washington Blade, Mar. 4; Tim Hulsey, Feb. 25).
On a related topic, last November Michigan voters approved a constitutional amendment providing that “the union of one man and one woman in marriage shall be the only agreement recognized as a marriage or similar union for any purpose” (see Nov. 2). At the time, opponents argued that the measure might well be interpreted to forbid cities, state universities and other public entities from offering domestic partnership benefits to their employees, but proponents of the measure dismissed that notion: a spokeswoman for Citizens for the Protection of Marriage, a group heavily backed by Michigan’s seven Catholic dioceses, told the Detroit News “nothing that’s on the books is going to change. We continue to confuse this issue by bringing in speculation.” However, with the amendment now in effect, the state’s attorney general — to cheers from most of the amendment’s organized backers — has issued an advisory opinion stating that it does indeed prohibit the city of Kalamazoo from providing DP benefits to its employees after the expiration of their current union contract. (Ed Finnerty, “City under fire over same-sex benefits plan”, Kalamazoo Gazette, Mar. 17; Claire Cummings and Melissa Domsic, “Cox: No future same-sex employee benefits”, State News (Michigan State U.), Mar. 17). Don Herzog of Left2Right, who has assembled plenty of links on the story, aptly labels the sequence of events “Bait and Switch” (Feb. 11 and Mar. 18). Update: Feb. 17, 2007 (Mich. appeals court rules benefits illegal under amendment).
A batch of new reader letters has now been posted on our letters page, all of them relating to the recent election. Among topics: Florida’s Amendment 3, the Federal Marriage Amendment, and whether we’re too political. I also have a note responding to these and other criticisms that some readers have voiced about the site.