Legal battles over marriage law in California and Massachusetts will provide the context for this year’s Constitution Day lecture at the West Virginia University College of Law.

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A webcast of the lecture can be viewed here.

The Sept. 16 lecture by Ruthann Robson, Visiting John T. Copenhaver Chair, is part of the mandated observance of Constitution Day, a federal holiday created in 2004 in legislation sponsored by the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia. The address will be at 12:30 p.m. in the Marlyn E. Lugar Courtroom at the WVU Law Center.

Robson is a nationally recognized constitutional law scholar visiting at WVU’s College of Law from the CUNY School of Law where she is a Distinguished Professor of Law.

She teaches in the areas of constitutional law, family law, feminist legal theory and sexuality and the law, and is faculty advisor to the New York City Law Review. She is the author of numerous works developing a lesbian legal theory, which include the books Sappho Goes to Law School and Lesbian (Out)Law: Survival Under the Rule of Law, and many articles in such journals as New York Law School Journal of Human Rights, Albany Law Review, Women’s Rights Law Reporter, Hastings Law Journal, Australian Feminist Law Journal, Yearbook of New Zealand Jurisprudence, as well as feminist journals such as Signs, Hypatia, and Women’s Studies Quarterly. The New York City Law Review has published a symposium on her work in volume 8, issue 2.

Her address, entitled “The Constitution and Marriage: Proposition 8, DOMA and Beyond,” will focus on rulings involving Proposition 8 in California and Massachusetts challenge of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, while providing constitutional context and looking to the future by examining the following questions:

  • Is same-sex marriage a constitutional right?
  • Does it conflict with other individual rights?
  • Under our Constitution, should it be a matter of state law or federal law?
  • Do state constitutions matter?
  • Should the judiciary have the power to decide?
  • If there is litigation, who should be constitutionally allowed—or required—to participate?

Two recent high-profile cases, presently on appeal and thought to be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, make those questions extremely timely.

In Perry v. Schwarzenegger, a federal judge declared California’s Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional, notwithstanding the fact that voters had enacted the proposition into the state constitution. The judgment has been stayed pending a decision from the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has ordered the parties to argue whether they have a right to appeal at all.

Meanwhile, in less well known litigation, Massachusetts has argued that the federal Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional under the 10th Amendment. A federal judge has agreed, as well as agreeing that DOMA violates the rights of same-sex partners married under Massachusetts law. Whether or not the federal government will appeal these rulings is being closely watched.

Professor Robson received her J.D. from Stetson University College of Law and an LL.M. from the University of California at Berkeley (Boalt Hall), clerked for a federal district court judge and a federal judge on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and practiced law with Florida Legal Services. She has given many presentations on women and sexuality and the law in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand. A frequent contributor to Out Magazine, she has won prizes for her creative work, including novels, short story collections, poetry and creative nonfiction. Her comments on Constitutional Law can be found at Constitutional Law Prof Blog.

WVU College of Law Dean Joyce E. McConnell will make opening remarks at the lecture regarding the late Sen. Bryd and his devotion and advocacy for the U. S. Constitution.


CONTACT: Brian Caudill, College of Law

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