Appeals court ruling controls Arizona gay marriage

Posted: Updated:
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX (AP) -- The federal appeals court overseeing Arizona overturned gay marriage bans in two other states Tuesday in a decision that means same-sex marriage is virtually certain to be declared legal in Arizona soon.

The ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out gay marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada on constitutional grounds. The same issues have been raised by gay couples in two pending federal lawsuits challenging Arizona's same-sex marriage ban.

Lawyers in the Arizona suits are expected to urge the judge overseeing them to take note of the appeals court ruling and immediately strike down the state's ban.

"The big question of course is when is Arizona going to start issuing marriage licenses, and the answer is not today, not tomorrow, but we are getting there," said Heather Macre, a lawyer on one of the Arizona cases. "And we are absolutely pushing for a ruling that would allow that here in Arizona as quickly as possible."

The 9th Circuit decision comes a day after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear appeals from five states where other federal appeals courts have blocked gay marriage bans. The high court decision cleared the way for a dramatic expansion of gay marriage in the United States and sent a signal that bans on gay marriage might fall in all 50 states.

The Arizona attorney general's office, which is defending the state's ban, said in a statement that it is reviewing the appeals court decision.

"We will then discuss those implications with our clients, advise them accordingly, and determine the appropriate course of action," the statement said.

Idaho and Nevada could ask the full 9th Circuit to review the case, or they could ask the Supreme Court to take their appeal.

But barring that, Arizona's ban is history, said Paul Bender, a constitutional law professor at Arizona State University. The two existing lawsuits give U.S. District Judge John Sedwick a rapid way of deciding the implication of the ruling.

"I would expect that the parties would move for summary judgment, and he will grant it based on the 9th Circuit opinion," Bender said.

Opponents of gay marriage lashed out at the appeals court opinion.

"Today's decision ... strikes at the heart of two foundational institutions that have made our nation truly exceptional: a democratic system that allows for self-governance of the people and the family," Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, said in a statement. "By fundamentally undermining the right of the people to vote to protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman, the Ninth Circuit Court has not only usurped their authority, but has taken another step to deny every child the best opportunity to have a mother and a father.

Arizona lawmakers approved a state law barring same-sex marriages in 1996, and the law was upheld by an Arizona appeals court seven years later. Voters in 2008 amended the Arizona Constitution to include the ban.

"Laws may change, but what will always remain is that the definition of marriage that has been ordained since the beginning of time is what is best for men, women, children, and our society as a whole," Herrod said.

RELATED:

--

Appeals court upholds Idaho, Nevada gay marriage

By KIMBERLEE KRUESI and PAUL ELIAS
Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- A federal appeals court declared gay marriage legal in Idaho and Nevada on Tuesday, a day after the U.S. Supreme Court effectively legalized same-sex marriage in 30 other states.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco struck down the two states' bans on gay marriage, ruling they violated equal protection rights.

"This is a super sweet victory," said Sue Latta, who along with Traci Ehlers sued Idaho last year to compel the state to recognize their 2008 marriage in California. Three other couples also joined the lawsuit to invalidate Idaho's same-sex marriage ban.

"Taxes are easier, real estate is easier, parenting is easier, end of life planning is easier," Latta said.

Logan Seven, 54, a limousine driver for Chapelle de l'amour wedding chapel in downtown Las Vegas, said he always wanted to get married on a beach, barefoot and in a white tuxedo.

"Trying to find the right man is the hard part," he said Tuesday after his boss told him about the gay marriage ruling.

The Chicago native said he was surprised when he moved to Las Vegas and learned that the town that touts itself as a marriage capital didn't allow gay marriages. "It's a no-brainer," Seven said. "Love is love."

Exactly when same-sex weddings would happen in Idaho and Nevada was unclear.

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden's spokesman Todd Dvorak said his office believes a previous 9th Circuit stay on marriages pending a U.S. Supreme Court appeal remains in place.

"We are reviewing the decision by the court and assessing all of Idaho's legal options," Wasden said in a statement.

Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel that laws that treat people differently based on sexual orientation are unconstitutional unless there is a compelling government interest. He wrote that neither Idaho nor Nevada offered any legitimate reasons to discriminate against gay couples.

"Idaho and Nevada's marriage laws, by preventing same-sex couples from marrying and refusing to recognize same-sex marriages celebrated elsewhere, impose profound legal, financial, social and psychic harms on numerous citizens of those states," Reinhardt wrote.

He rejected the argument that same-sex marriages will devalue traditional marriage, leading to more out-of-wedlock births.

"This proposition reflects a crass and callous view of parental love and the parental bond that is not worthy of response," Reinhardt wrote. "We reject it out of hand."

Technically, the court upheld a trial judge's ruling striking down Idaho's ban and reversed a lower court ruling upholding Nevada's ban.

Reinhardt ordered a "prompt issuance" of a lower court order to let same-sex couples wed In Nevada.

"We are absolutely delighted that wedding bells will finally be ringing for same-sex couples in Nevada," said Tara Borelli, the lawyer who argued the Nevada case for Lambda Legal.

Monte Neil Stewart, the Idaho-based attorney who argued the case for Nevada on behalf of the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage, declined to say whether he'll challenge the order for the prompt start to same-sex marriages.

Reinhardt didn't say when marriages should start in Idaho.

State and federal court judges have been striking down bans at a rapid rate since a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year.

On Monday, the nation's top court unexpectedly rejected appeals from five states seeking to preserve their bans. The decision cleared the way for a dramatic expansion of gay marriage in the United States and might have signaled that it's only a matter of time before same-sex couples can marry in all 50 states.

The appeals court panel did not rule on a similar case in Hawaii, which legalized gay marriage in December. Hawaii's governor had asked the court to toss out a lawsuit challenging the state's ban and an appeal to the 9th Circuit filed before Hawaii lawmakers legalized same-sex marriage.

All three judges on the panel were appointed by Democratic presidents. President Bill Clinton appointed Judges Marsha Berzon and Ronald Gould. President Jimmy Carter appointed Judge Stephen Reinhardt.

The court also has jurisdiction in three other states that still have marriage bans in place: Alaska, Arizona and Montana. Lawsuits challenging bans in those states are still pending in lower courts and have not reached the 9th Circuit.

---

Elias reported from San Francisco. Associated Press writers Ken Ritter and Kimberly Pierceall in Las Vegas and Rebecca Boone in Boise contributed to this report.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.