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Litigating Same-Sex Marriage at the Supreme Court

March 16, 2015
MoFo

Professor Noah Novogrodsky and University of Wyoming College of Law International Human Rights Clinic student Sam Forshner recently traveled to San Francisco to work on an amicus brief in the equal marriage case scheduled to be heard at the Supreme Court on April 28th.  Produced in collaboration with Morrison and Foerster LLP partners Ruth Borenstein and Marc Hearron, the brief argues for extending same-sex marriage to all fifty states based on principles of liberty, equality and human dignity.  The brief was signed by a group of six leading foreign and comparative law experts and highlights the global impacts the Supreme Court’s ruling will have on the issue.

The impetus for the brief was the overturning of lower court rulings in same-sex marriage cases from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Sam, a second year law student, has worked on a couple of asylum cases, but working on the brief has been his biggest challenge. For the brief, Sam played a major role in researching similar cases and rulings on same-sex marriage in other countries.

“I was looking into how other countries that are perceived as “conservative” have been able to balance civil, same-sex marriage with the rights of religious entities,” he explains. “In contrast, I also found cases in which people are tortured and murdered for being in a same-sex relationship.” The resulting findings were summarized in the brief.

According to the brief, “…fundamental principles such as “liberty,” “dignity,” and “equality” are not solely American, but rather universal, concepts whose interpretation by other leading constitutional courts can inform this Court’s understanding of issues.”

“The Court’s ruling in this case will affect whether the United States continues to be seen as a global leader in the robust defense of personal autonomy and human dignity,” the brief concludes.

Professor Novogrodsky notes that “we live in a globalized world and the court should be aware of the 20 foreign states that have embraced marriage equality and the reasons why.”  Professor Novogrodsky adds that “it is a privilege to supervise Wyoming law students on a project that, like the Shepard symposium, promotes equality and rejects future discrimination and intolerance.”

The brief was filed on behalf of Harold Hongju Koh, Sterling Professor at Yale Law School, former International Court of Justice Judge Thomas Buergenthal of George Washington University Law School, Sarah H. Cleveland of Columbia Law School, Laurence R. Helfer of Duke University School of Law, Ryan Goodman of New York University School of Law and Sujit Choudhry, Dean and Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley.

For the authors of the brief, the outcome of the Supreme Court ruling will be a defining moment in U.S. legal history.  For Sam, the journey has been equally important and another example of the singular opportunities students can have during their legal education at Wyoming.

 “I am really thankful to have been able to work on this project. Wyoming is a small school, so to be able to take advantage of such an amazing opportunity has been huge,” he says. “It also feels really good to be a part of a current issue that is so big and to hopefully, be making a difference. A lot of people might think that Wyoming doesn’t care about topics like this, but we are right there in the forefront.”


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