Constitutional Law

9th Circuit strikes down same-sex marriage bans; SCOTUS rejects Idaho's stay request

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Updated: The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled late Tuesday that same-sex marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada are unconstitutional. The Washington Post, the Associated Press and CNN have stories.

The court found that the bans violate the rights of same-sex couples to equal protection under the law. It found that there was no evidence to support the states’ argument that the bans promoted “good parenting in stable opposite-sex families.”

The ruling said: “Because defendants have failed to demonstrate that these laws further any legitimate purpose, they unjustifiably discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, and are in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.”

But on Wednesday morning, it was announced that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy had issued an emergency stay of the ruling, the Associated Press reports. Kennedy’s order requested that the plaintiffs in the Idaho same-sex marriage case respond by the end of the day Thursday. Had no stay been granted, Idaho would have been required to begin issuing marriage licenses Wednesday. It was initially thought that Kennedy’s stay applied to Nevada as well, but Kennedy later clarified that it did not, the Associated Press reported later Wednesday. Late Thursday night, a Nevada federal judge ordered state officials to stop enforcing the same-sex marriage, ban, SCOTUSblog reported.

And late Friday afternoon, the Supreme Court rejected Idaho state officials’ request to postpone the ruling nullifying the same-sex marriage ban, SCOTUSblog reported; the same order lifted Kennedy’s stay.

The 9th Circuit, whose territory includes nine western states, did not decide a separate Hawaii case challenging that state’s ban. The state of Hawaii legalized same-sex marriage in December and had asked the court to toss out the challenge.

The decision came one day after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up several appeals of circuit court decisions striking down marriage bans.

Speculation about what the high court will do has, in part, focused on whether there could be a circuit split on the issue. So far, all of the federal appeals courts to consider the issue—and all but one of the federal district courts—have agreed with the 9th Circuit.

The 6th Circuit is also expected to issue a decision on the subject soon. Texas appealed the overturning of its gay-marriage ban by a federal court in February to the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but oral arguments have not been scheduled. One plaintiff in that case asked the 5th to hear arguments quickly, before she gives birth and her partner must adopt the baby, the Wall Street Journal Law Blog reported. The 5th Circuit agreed Tuesday to expedite the appeal, the Houston Chronicle reported. Josh Blackman’s Blog noted that the 5th Circuit has sittings scheduled from Oct. 6 to Oct. 8, and from Oct. 27 to Oct. 30.

In the coming weeks, 32 states could allow same-sex marriage, according to CNN.

Also on Friday, a federal judge in North Carolina ordered the state to set aside its same-sex marriage ban, SCOTUSblog and the Charlotte Observer reported. A lawyer for Republican leaders in the legislature said they will appeal.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2013’s U.S. v. Windsor that the federal Defense of Marriage Act, denying federal benefits to married same-sex couples, violates those couples’ due process rights. The ruling did not legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, but its logic has been applied in subsequent challenges to state bans.

A companion case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, left intact a ruling allowing gay marriages in California by finding that supporters of California’s marriage ban had no standing to defend the law. State officials declined to defend it.

Last updated Oct. 10 to note the Supreme Court’s order and the North Carolina federal judge’s order.

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