Role Responsibility, Official Disobedience, and the Supreme Court’s Ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act

Case Solution

Laura Winig, Christopher Robichaud
Harvard Kennedy School ()

In June 2013, the US Supreme Court found that the federal law defending marriage violated the Fifth Amendment protection of equal liberty to the US Constitution, effectively repealing the law. Pennsylvania, however, outlawed same-sex marriages. Despite state law, D. Bruce Hanes, a Pennsylvania registry of wills, agreed to honor a request from two women seeking same-sex marriage certificates, an act of official disobedience that immediately brought Hanes to the national spotlight. . Hanes, citing his oath to uphold both the Pennsylvania Constitution and the United States Constitution, found the two to be “diametrically opposed” on this issue. Hanes said, “I have chosen to be on the right side of history and the law.” Texas officials also struggled with the verdict. Shortly after the ruling, the Department of Defense (DOD) directed federal military installations to include same-sex spouses of military personnel in military benefit programs. However, in Texas, where state law prohibited same-sex marriages, the Texas Military Forces (TMF) said they would not adhere to DOD policy. Since TMF was a government agency, the commanding general said the agency could not process benefits for same-sex couples. Members of TMF were sworn to uphold the United States and Texas constitutions, setting the stage for conflict. In the context of contemporary same-sex marriage law, the case examines two sides of the same coin: In states where same-sex marriage is illegal, one official chooses to oppose the law while another opposes the law. refuses to comply with a federal policy. The case prompts students to examine whether and when official disobedience is justified in the refusal of a public official in an official capacity to obey the law. Case number 2014.0

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