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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Alito renews criticism of landmark ruling on same-sex marriage



People celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington on June 26, 2015, after it ruled that the Constitution provides same-sex couples the right to marry. (Zach Gibson/The New York Times)

By Abbie Vansickle


Justice Samuel Alito earlier this week renewed his criticisms of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision recognizing the right to same-sex marriage, saying that people who oppose homosexuality risk being unfairly “labeled as bigots and treated as such.”


The justice included his warning in a five-page statement explaining why the court had rejected a request to hear a Missouri case about people removed from a jury after voicing religious objections to gay relationships. The case, Alito wrote, “exemplifies the danger” from the court’s 2015 decision, Obergefell v. Hodges.


The ruling, he added, shows how “Americans who do not hide their adherence to traditional religious beliefs about homosexual conduct will be ‘labeled as bigots and treated as such’ by the government.”


The statement appeared to offer a glimpse into Alito’s continued discontent with Obergefell v. Hodges, in which the court, by a 5-4 vote, guaranteed a right to same-sex marriage, a long-sought victory in the gay rights movement.


In the years since, Alito and Justice Clarence Thomas, who both dissented from the 2015 decision, have appeared to urge the court to reconsider the ruling. The court, they have contended, invented a right not based in the text of the Constitution and said it had cast “people of goodwill as bigots.”


Only two members of the court who ruled in favor of Obergefell remain on the bench — Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. The court has since transformed under the presidency of Donald Trump with the addition of three conservative justices who have solidified a conservative supermajority.


The case at issue on Tuesday, Missouri Department of Corrections v. Jean Finney, No. 23-203, involved a dispute over the dismissal of jurors who voiced religious concerns about gay relationships during jury selection in an employment discrimination case.


Jean Finney, an employee of the Missouri Department of Corrections, claimed that after beginning a same-sex relationship with a co-worker’s former spouse, that co-worker made Finney’s job intolerable. The colleague spread rumors about her, sent demeaning messages and withheld information she needed to complete her work duties, Finney said. Finney sued the Department of Corrections, accusing the department of being responsible for the co-worker’s actions.


During jury selection, Finney’s lawyer questioned potential jurors about their religious beliefs about sexuality. Among the questions: “How many of you went to a religious organization growing up where it was taught that people that are homosexuals shouldn’t have the same rights as everyone else because it was a sin with what they did?”


The trial lawyer moved to strike certain jurors on the basis of his questions, according to the legal brief filed by the Department of Corrections. The brief took issue with the trial lawyer’s tack, saying that it essentially endorsed the idea that “a person with traditional religious beliefs should never sit on a jury when a party has been in a same-sex relationship because when a prospective juror believes as a religious matter ‘that is a sin, there’s no way to rehabilitate.’”


The lawyer for the Department of Corrections objected, saying that such a request edged into religious discrimination.


The trial judge granted Finney’s lawyer’s request to strike the jurors, and the jury sided with Finney, prompting the Department of Corrections to ask for a new trial.


The Department of Corrections asserted that by excluding the jurors who voiced their religious beliefs, the trial judge had violated the 14th Amendment.


After the Missouri Court of Appeals upheld the verdict and the state Supreme Court declined to review the case, the Office of the Missouri Attorney General asked the United States Supreme Court to take up the case.


Even as Alito wrote that he reluctantly agreed that the court should not take up the case, he said he remained troubled by the issue.


“I am concerned that the lower court’s reasoning may spread and may be a foretaste of things to come,” he wrote.


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