PUBLISHED:June 26, 2015

Siegel on Supreme Court marriage ruling: "The lawfulness of this decision is exceeded only by its decency"

Professor Neil Siegel, a constitutional law scholar who has devoted significant research and scholarship to the issue of same-sex marriage, said that the Supreme Court’s June 26 ruling conclusively showed the Constitution’s protection of marriage for gay couples.

“The decision faithfully applies, and persuasively extends, the court’s many precedents that protect ‘certain personal choices central to individual dignity and autonomy,’ as the court put it today,” said Siegel, the David W. Ichel Professor of Law and Professor of Political Science. “The lawfulness of this decision is exceeded only by its decency.”

The majority opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, cited two clauses in the Fourteenth Amendment as guaranteeing the “fundamental right to marry” for same-sex couples.

“Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion explains how the Constitution's protections of liberty and equality can interact to protect human dignity, including the 'equal dignity' of same-sex couples ‘in the eyes of the law,’” Siegel said. 

Siegel and Professors Laurence HelferErnest YoungDeborah DeMottWalter Dellinger, and Gregg Strauss have authored articles, co-written friend-of-the-court briefs, and helped the media parse the legal issues involved in Obergefell as well as two previous same-sex marriage cases decided in the 2012-2013 term of the Court.

Siegel has written extensively on U.S. v. Windsor, the 2013 case in which the Supreme Court ruled a portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. In Federalism as a Way Station: Windsor as Exemplar of Doctrine in Motion, he predicted that the Court’s decision signaled its movement toward a legal acceptance of marriage equality.

Helfer, the Harry R. Chadwick, Sr. Professor of Law and co-director of Duke’s Center for International and Comparative Law, co-authored an amicus brief with scholars of international and comparative law, urging the court to heed “an emerging global consensus among liberal democracies” by protecting same-sex marriages in Obergefell. Helfer also co-authored a 2012 amicus brief filed in Hollingsworth v. Perry.  The brief cited foreign and comparative law supporting the legality of same-sex marriage in support of an effort to repeal California’s Proposition 8, a ban on same-sex marriage.

Professor Ernest Young co-authored the only amicus brief cited in the court’s majority opinion on Windsor. Young and his co-authors, who included Erin Blondel ’09, based their argument against DOMA on federalism. Deborah DeMott, the David F. Cavers Professor of Law, served as the sole reporter for the American Law Institute’s Restatement (Third) of Agency, which was prominently cited in the Court’s 2013 ruling in Hollingsworth.