The Constitution Day event, “The Futures of Marriage Equality and Religious Liberty: Perspectives on Obergefell v. Hodges” will begin at 11 a.m. in Room 100 of the Auditorium Building, 1401 W. Hickory St. Constitution Day programming is sponsored by the UNT Honors College with funding from the Jack Miller Center, UNT Libraries.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiff in Obergefell v. Hodges, who had legally married another man in Maryland but whose marriage was not recognized in his state of residence, Ohio. The Court held in a 5-4 decision that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
The Court’s majority opinion also noted that First Amendment protections are in place for those who do not recognize same-sex marriage as part of their religion.
Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Texas, and Chelsey Youman, associate counsel for the Liberty Institute, will discuss the Court’s ruling from perspectives of both same-sex marriage advocates and religious objectors during a free Constitution Day panel discussion Sept. 17 (Thursday) at the University of North Texas.
Constitution Day was created in 2004 with the passage of an amendment by U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd to an appropriations bill. The actual date of Constitution Day, Sept. 17, was previously known only as Citizenship Day, which recognized those who had become U.S. citizens during the previous year. The expanded Constitution Day and Citizenship Day mandates that all publicly funded educational institutions provide educational programs on the history of the American constitution.
Rafael Major, senior lecturer in the Honors College, said the Constitution Day program will not be a traditional debate. Instead, both speakers will give their views of the Supreme Court decision and what they believe will be its implications. Both speakers will answer student questions from the audience following their presentations.
“It’s important for students to hear both sides of the issue. The immediate ruling is that gay marriage is now recognized and protected by law, but what exactly that means in terms of future law suits is still unknown,” he said. “It’s pretty clear that lawsuits will come from and against people like county clerks who issue marriage licenses, bakers, florists, and perhaps churches and other organizations who don’t recognize gay marriage as part of their religion.”
Robertson leads the ACLU’s legal, legislative and field teams in Texas. She was previously a partner at Baker Botts LLP, where she led the amicus team working on Texas v. Lawrence to challenge Texas’ sodomy law. In June 2003, the Supreme Court struck down the law by a 6-3 ruling, which, by extension, invalidated sodomy laws in 13 other states and made same-sex sexuality activity legal in every U.S. state and territory. Robertson is a graduate of Rice University and Harvard Law School, and has been recognized by both the Houston Bar Association and the State Bar of Texas for her pro bono service.
Youman concentrates on religious liberty matters and First Amendment rights at the Liberty Institute. She previously worked in private practice, successfully litigating corporate fraud, complex commercial cases and consumer rights issues in both federal and state jurisdictions. She is a graduate of Texas A&M University and Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law.
During the day, UNT Libraries will pass out pocket-size U.S. Constitutions on campus and in several classrooms. Students may also pick up their own copy at The Eagle Commons Library in Sycamore Hall.