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James Boyd
IU Maurer School of Law
Office 812-855-0156

Ken Turchi
Maurer School of Law
Office 812-856-4044


IU Maurer professor co-authors 'The People's Brief' in support of marriage equality

Feb. 11, 2015


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- An Indiana University law professor is serving as co-counsel on an amicus brief to the United States Supreme Court, arguing that state laws banning same-sex marriage cannot be justified under the U.S. Constitution.

Steve Sanders, an associate professor of law at the Maurer School of Law, has joined Robbie Kaplan -- the attorney who won United States v. Windsor -- and Dale Carpenter, a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, in filing the “friend of the court” brief, which will be submitted in March by the Human Rights Campaign. While the Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor was hailed as a key turning point in the way same-sex marriage is viewed at the federal level, all or parts of 14 states still deny licensing or recognition of same-sex marriages.

Before the brief is submitted, the Human Rights Campaign has invited the public to read and sign it. The amicus brief to be filed by Kaplan, Sanders and Carpenter argues that state laws excluding same-sex marriage are in violation of the Equal Protection Clause because they reflect unconstitutional “animus” toward gays and lesbians. Whereas other challenges to same-sex marriage have focused on issues like the definition of the “fundamental right” to marriage or claims that sexual orientation discrimination deserves “heightened scrutiny” under the equal protection guarantee of the U.S. Constitution, the animus argument has remained largely undeveloped -- until now.

“In our own scholarship and blogging, Dale and I have both explored in various ways how the legal concept of animus -- that is, the desire to use the law to harm a group without sufficient justification -- contributed to the enactment of anti-same-sex marriage laws in most of the country over a very short period of time,” Sanders said. “I’ve also written about how state laws that nullify existing legal same-sex marriages inflict a particularly unjustified injury.”

Kaplan told BuzzFeed that she asked Sanders and Carpenter to partner with her because they are “the two leading scholars” on the animus question. As unconventional as it sounds, the decision to collaborate on an amicus brief emerged out of Facebook, of all places.

“Robbie added me as a friend after she read an essay I had written for SCOTUSblog,” Sanders said. “And she had previously worked with Dale. It was Robbie’s vision that the three of us should collaborate on a brief that would make this animus argument directly to the Supreme Court.”

The trio of lawyers teamed up with the Human Rights Campaign as their client for the brief due to the organization’s public education efforts and contributions toward breaking down anti-gay animus.

Sanders, who is also affiliated with IU’s departments of gender studies and political science and the renowned Kinsey Institute for Research in Gender, Sex and Reproduction, has written widely on legal issues surrounding marriage equality and families headed by same-sex couples. He can be reached at or 812-855-1775.