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A constitutional amendment passed after the Civil War is behind the battle

Since the 14th Amendment was established in the aftermath of the Civil War, it’s widely misperceived to protect only racial minorities. But constitutional scholars argue that the amendment was purposely broad to protect anyone from discrimination — even groups of people who the amendment’s authors couldn’t possibly predict would face discrimination or one day be accepted by society.

The 14th Amendment “was designed to, really, perfect the promise of the Declaration of Independence,” Judith Schaeffer, vice president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, said. “The purpose and the meaning of the 14th Amendment is to make clear that no state can take any group of citizens and make them second-class.”

Schaeffer, who has studied the history of the amendment, said it was purposely written to cover groups of people in a broad manner that goes beyond race. “The authors of the 14th Amendment rejected drafts and proposals that would have limited the 14th Amendment just to racial discrimination,” she said. “Instead, they put in language that protects any person — not just on the basis of race, but any person.”

The amendment accomplishes this by requiring states to enforce their laws equally among all groups and not deny any group fundamental rights. In the case of same-sex marriage, states’ bans violate the 14th Amendment because they purposely exclude gay and lesbian couples from marriage laws and, as a result, deny them the right to marry.