Greg Justis Wins a Social Justice Research Paper Award

Gregory Justis, 3L, received the 6th Annual Social Justice Research Paper Award for Honorable Mention for his paper, “Defining Union: The Defense of Marriage Act, Tribal Sovereignty and Same-Sex Marriage”. He presented his paper earlier this year at the Midwest Political Science Association Annual Conference.

The annual award invites University of Louisville students to submit papers on any social justice topic. For the second year in a row, judges from various scholarly fields and from the community awarded two first-place winners in the graduate category and one honorable mention, also in the graduate category. Hard copies of their papers are available among our collection of books, journals and other reference materials in the ABI reading room.

Abstract: Native American tribes in the United States enjoy an unusual “quasi-sovereign” legal status.  As a result, native tribes possess an inherent authority to regulate tribal domestic relations, and thus to define marriage as they choose – even when such marriages fail to conform to the legal definition proferred by the state.  While recent legislation such as the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) have emerged as potential hurdles for state recognition of otherwise valid tribal unions, both history and federal jurisprudence suggest that marriages recognized as valid under customary tribal law should be (and indeed must be) additionally recognized by the states in which such tribes reside.  As a result, although it appears that states may choose to refuse recognition pursuant to DOMA, it appears equally plausible (if not equally probable) that states may choose to recognize tribal same-sex marriages as valid, a potential breakthrough for gender equality in the United States.  This paper explores the potential impact of DOMA and related legislation on the recent trend towards tribal recognition of same-sex unions throughout the United States, as well as the likely impact of legal recognition on state, federal and tribal law.