Unanimous Ninth Circuit Ruling Strikes Down Idaho, Nevada Marriage Equality Bans

by Charles Joughin

WASHINGTON – Today a three-judge panel for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that state bans on marriage rights for same-sex couples are unconstitutional. In a decision authored by Judge Reinhardt, who was joined by Judge Gould and Judge Berzon, the court found that Idaho and Nevada’s marriage bans violate the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on the basis of equal protection. Judge Reinhardt writes, “Plaintiffs are ordinary Idahoans and Nevadans. One teaches deaf children. Another is a warehouse manager. A third is an historian. Most are parents. Like all human beings, their lives are given greater meaning by their intimate, loving, committed relationships with their partners and children.”

“At the end of the day, it shouldn’t matter what state you call home,” said Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Legal Director Sarah Warbelow.  “All Americans deserve the right to marry the person they love.  Today’s ruling in the Ninth Circuit affirms that the U.S. Constitution doesn’t allow for states to pick and choose which of its citizens are entitled to certain rights, and which are not.”

The defendants in Idaho now have the option to request an en banc appeal before the full bench of the Ninth Circuit, which decides whether or not to grant that request. They may also bypass an en banc session and appeal directly to the Supreme Court.  Marriage equality will soon become law in Nevada, as the proponents of the ban do not have standing to appeal today’s ruling to the Supreme Court and the governor and attorney general of that state have withdrawn their opposition to the challenge. 

Montana, Alaska and Arizona – all states that fall within the Ninth Circuit’s jurisdiction and have marriage bans in place – are not immediately effected by today’s ruling.

Yesterday the nine justices of the Supreme Court announced they had declined to hear any of the cases pending before them challenging state bans on marriage for same-sex couples.  This allowed the circuit court decisions striking down the bans to stand, meaning same-sex couples in Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Wisconsin and Indiana are now able to legally marry.  In addition, it leaves in place the circuit court rulings from the Fourth, Seventh and Tenth Circuits, meaning couples in West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kansas and Wyoming will soon be able to marry as well.  


Idaho: On May 13, 2014, U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale ruled in Latta v. Otter that Idaho’s constitutional amendment restricting marriage from same-sex couples was unconstitutional.  In her ruling Judge Dale wrote, "Idaho’s Marriage Laws withhold from them a profound and personal choice, one that most can take for granted. By doing so, Idaho’s Marriage Laws deny same-sex couples the economic, practical, emotional, and spiritual benefits of marriage, relegating each couple to a stigmatized, second-class status. Plaintiffs suffer these injuries not because they are unqualified to marry, start a family, or grow old together, but because of who they are and whom they love." The case was brought by four same-sex couples represented by Boise attorneys Deborah A. Ferguson and Craig Durham and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).   

Nevada: In Sevcik v. Sandoval, a group of same sex couples, represented by Lambda Legal, are challenging Nevada's marriage ban in federal court. The plaintiffs argue that Nevada's denial of marriage to same-sex couples violates their rights to due process and equal protection under the U.S. Constitution. In November 2012, their case was partially dismissed by the trial court and they appealed that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In early 2014, Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Governor Brian Sandoval announced they would no longer defend the state's marriage ban, so an anti-equality organization called the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage intervened in defense of the ban. 

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.


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