Charles Smith, UCI PoliSci Professor, Has More Than Educational Stake in Gay Marriage Rulings

Charles Smith had wanted a big church wedding at the end of October 2008, but because of the threat posed by Prop 8, the UC Irvine political science professor and his future husband tied the knot the previous July 3 in the Old County Courthouse in Santa Ana. California voters did not ban same-sex marriages until early November '08, but Smith worried bureaucratic delays might nullify a marriage held so close to election day.

It's one reason he joined the legal fights that resulted in today's U.S. Supreme Court rulings.


Smith, who specializes in law and legal institutions and comparative and international law at UCI, was among 14 political science professors from around the country who filed amicus briefs with the high court on Prop 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

He told City News Service today's favorable rulings to his positions on the cases are “nice from a personal standpoint that my marriage isn't in a second-class category now.”

He does not fear a backlash politically, feeling the Supreme Court has now given cover to marriage equality foes and paved the way for greater acceptance. He cited public opinion polls showing gay marriage is gathering acceptance in most demographics.

But he also conceded that gay marriage returning to California on the back of a 5-4 Supreme Court opinion finding Prop 8 opponents lacked standing to challenge a lower-court's ruling that the initiative was unconstitutional is “a little weasily.”

''Under the guise of states' rights they're trampling on states' rights,” Smith tells the news service. “As [Justice Anthony] Kennedy points out in his dissent, it's really problematic if the governor and attorney general choose not to defend an initiative and nobody else can. It really undermines the initiative process in a profound way. … From a federalist standpoint, I don't think they want that outcome, but I think [Chief Justice John] Roberts was stuck in a difficult position.”

And it ain't over, Smith confesses. He believes test cases will be filed over the next year to finally topple DOMA. These cases will have to resolve another 5-4 Supreme Court ruling that holds the federal government can't deny various benefits to same-sex couples married in states where those unions are legal.

But what if that couple moves to another state that does not allow same-sex marriage and later divorces? Or has child-custody issues? Or what if one partner can get a green card in one state but not another?

“The next case is going to lead us to a broad marriage equality ruling,” Smith predicts.

Email: mc****@oc******.com. Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!

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