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“Why does the Indiana Attorney General have to be involved in the definition-of-marriage cases before the U.S. Supreme Court?” It’s a fair question I have been asked since the Supreme Court announced Dec. 7 it would hear two marriage-definition cases, potentially setting the stage for a landmark ruling next June.
Simply put, my legal obligation as attorney for my client, the Indiana Legislature, is to defend state laws legislators have passed. Indiana has a statute defining marriage as between a man and a woman. If the Supreme Court were to strike down a similar California law, Proposition 8, as unconstitutional, then it would put Indiana’s statute at risk.
Under our system of justice, both sides in a case must be zealously represented. Although Indiana is not a plaintiff or defendant in either of the cases the Supreme Court will hear, our state and other states have an undeniable interest in asserting each state’s legal authority to define marriage as it sees fit within its borders. That’s why my office, representing Indiana, jointly filed a friend-of-the-court brief along with 14 other states that urged the Supreme Court to keep the marriage-definition legal authority at the state level.
Filing such legal briefs, called amicus briefs, is how states present a united front in making their legal positions known to the Supreme Court when they are not directly litigating the case at hand. Drafting and joining amicus briefs in support of other states is a routine but essential duty of the Indiana Attorney General’s Office, assigned to our Solicitor General and funded in advance through our existing budget at no additional expense to taxpayers.
In the two Supreme Court cases, we are not arguing to strike down the legal authority of other states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex partners, if those states so choose. Instead we defend the authority of each state to pass and enact its own traditional marriage-definition laws at the state level – either through its legislature or directly by voters if it has a referendum process.
As an officeholder who listens to constituents, I recognize that people on all sides of the marriage-definition debate hold strong, sincere views. Many Hoosiers favor keeping our state’s current marriage definition and strengthening it by adding it to the Indiana Constitution; others oppose such an amendment but would keep the status quo; still others would favor changing the traditional marriage definition.
Someone has to draw the line somewhere, and that authority belongs to the people’s elected representatives in the Legislature. Defining marriage as between one man and one woman is where Indiana’s legislators have chosen to draw that line in statute. Only the Supreme Court is able to speak with finality on the constitutionality of the significant issues raised; but both sides must be represented by legal advocates – and my clients in the Legislature have clearly chosen the side on which I will serve.
Defining marriage is an intrinsic function of state government that ought not be stripped from states as happened to California in one of the cases now being appealed. This is an important question of our time and therefore we asked the U.S. Supreme Court to exercise its role in our constitutional process to provide answers. Representing Indiana’s case is my responsibility as attorney general, an obligation that I will do to the best of my skill and ability.
Zoeller is attorney general of Indiana.