One year after a landmark Massachusetts court decision declared that limiting marriage to heterosexual couples is unconstitutional, students at Harvard Law School (HLS) argued the issue before Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The 2003 decision, Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, touched off impassioned debate across the country.
That same fervor was on display last night as select HLS students debated before a crowd at the Ames Courtroom in the Ames Final Moot Court Competition.
The event was the culmination of a year of efforts by two teams of six students. They made it to last night’s competition after besting dozens of their classmates in a preliminary competition involving the preparation of briefs and oral arguments.
Judges awarded the evening’s best overall performance to the team who advocated upholding a hypothetical Defense of Marriage Act—prohibiting same-sex marriages—against a challenge under the U.S. Constitution.
But the award for the best oral argument went to Marc L. Krickbaum, who argued for the opposing team.
While the specifics in the case were fabricated, the underlying issues mirror those in the real world.
“There is a traditional right to marry and it excludes gay and lesbian couples,” Krickbaum said in his argument. Legislation prohibiting gay marriage “stigmatizes and demeans gay and lesbian couples and...their children.”
The role of homosexual couples as parents figured largely into the debate.
“How does it affect the child if his parents cannot be married?” Ginsburg asked, pressing the team arguing for the act’s constitutionality. “Every child adopted by a same-sex couple will be disadvantaged vis-a-vis a child adopted by a homosexual couple.”
Controversy also surrounded the implications for marriage as an institution of the state.
“These people are saying that [they] are not asking the state to give [them] anything except that basic dignity,” Ginsburg said, describing the concerns of homosexual marriage supporters.
Still, the judges recognized the gravity of overturning current legal definitions of marriage.
“Our tradition in this country is not on your side,” U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Richard A. Paez said to those arguing against the act.
Krickbaum stressed that marriage is defined by a “relation of mutual love and support.” He cited case law allowing marriage for interracial couples and imprisoned criminals to support his argument for same-sex marriage.
“The definition of marriage has changed many times in our history,” Ginsburg said. “All of those changes have made marriage more of an equal union.”