American Humanist Association, Joined by Many Secular Groups, Files Amicus Briefs Defending Marriage Equality

Earlier today, the American Humanist Association, joined by a coalition of many national non-theistic groups, submitted amicus briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of marriage equality.

The briefs challenged the constitutionality of both the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Proposition 8 in California (PDFs):

The briefs argued that, under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment, discrimination against gays and lesbians must, like that on the basis of race or gender, be presumed to be unconstitutional. The briefs also argued that such discrimination is particularly egregious when it implicates the fundamental right to marriage and family life that is protected by the Constitution. Legislation may not “be used as a sword to deny the basic humanity and fundamental rights of gays and lesbians,” the briefs conclude. “Our Constitution requires that our laws treat each of us with equality and forbids them to create any class of second class citizens.”

“The Supreme Court has the opportunity to reverse decades of discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans, often rooted in religiously justified bigotry,” said Bill Burgess, legal coordinator of the American Humanist Association’s legal arm, the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “Our government must be a secular one, and cannot adopt any legislation that seeks to give religious condemnation of homosexuality the force of law. The Constitution instead requires that the law treat each of us equally.”

Why are these issues the non-religious community should be concerned about? The answers are right there in the briefs:

Some who oppose this conclusion… claim that their “religious liberty,” to use their own intentionally overbroad, yet vague, phrasing, would be violated if this Court confirms a right to legal equality for gays and lesbians. The fundamentalist Christians among them cite their Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality. Of course, no decision of this Court striking down a law forbidding same-sex marriage would require these individuals to engage in any sexual activity their religion forbids. Instead, the only “right” they can claim is one that, given the secular nature of our government as guaranteed by the Establishment Clause, cannot exist: the right to have their religious views written into law so that others may be compelled to follow them.

There are good legal reasons (as well as obvious moral reasons) for Secular Americans to be on the side of tolerance and equality. Huge tips of the hat to William J. Burgess and Monica Miller of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center for their work on these documents.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Alan Eckert

    WOOHOO! More reading! I’ve been reading all of these briefs (pro and con) since the beginning of the Prop 8 trial. I’ve passed it on to our tracker group on facebook! So exciting!

  • Counter Apologist

    I know this is far fetched, but could you imagine if same sex marriage was legalized via these decisions, ala Roe v Wade? To have it come through all at once with the conservative states not being able to stop it would be huge for the people in those states. The fallout would be potentially scary though.

  • 3lemenope

    And now for something completely different…

    But seriously, It’s really nice to see voices from many quarters on the right side of this one.

  • Edmond

    I can imagine that. I do it often, and I don’t think it’s so far-fetched, either.

  • chicago dyke

    reason and history tell us, nothing much would happen. and some good things would happen.

    str8 marriages would not fail at any higher rates than they already do. churches would not collapse. no priest will be forced to marry a gay couple.

    otoh, a chink in the political wall of denying equality would become wider. legislators in AL and TX would have no choice but to admit: jeebus didn’t strike us all down for our “sins.” haters running con games like NOM would get less money. fewer gay kids would commit suicide.

    i am not one of the biggest gay cheerleaders in the marriage battle; i don’t want to marry. but it’s an important step towards full equality. so i support it, everywhere.

    someday i’ll also be protected from being fired, if i tell my boss “I’m gay.” that is the day i’m looking forward to, and this is a step on that pathway.

  • baal

    Unlike abortion, which has always been a somewhat nuanced issue with fuzzy lines, the marriage equality issue is much more similar to the fall of the law barring interracial marriage. If the SCOTUS ‘pulls a roe’ on gay marriage, it’s hard to see what stream of eroding legislation the right could push for that would not be a clear violation of the ruling.