Gay marriage moves closer to Supreme Court

Associated PressJune 25, 2014 

  • WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

    “It is wholly illogical to believe that state recognition of love and commitment of same-sex couples will alter the most intimate and personal decisions of opposite-sex couples.” – from the ruling of a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver

    –––

    “We should resist the temptation to become philosopher-kings, imposing our views under the guise of the Fourteenth Amendment.” – Dissenting opinion from 10th Circuit Justice Paul J. Kelly Jr.

    –––

    “I cannot believe this. My hands are shaking so much, I can hardly hold the phone; I’m so happy. All I can say is that we are thrilled.” – Utah plaintiff Kody Partridge

    –––

    “Although the Court’s 2-1 split decision does not favor the State, we are pleased that the ruling has been issued and takes us one step closer to reaching certainty and finality for all Utahns on such an important issue with a decision from the highest court.” – Utah attorney general’s office

    –––

    “This decision is an absolute victory for fairness and equality for all families in Utah, in every state in the 10th Circuit and every state in this great nation of the United States.” – Peggy Tomsic, attorney for the plaintiffs

    –––

    “We can’t get finality and final resolution unless the Supreme Court hears the case and makes a decision. Once that happens, we'll abide by what the court decides.” – Republican Utah Gov. Gary Herbert

    –––

    “It feels wonderful to be among one of the many same-sex couples across the country that are being respected and are offered dignity by the court system, and this is just emblematic of the United States judicial process. I don’t think that the state of Utah can continue to deny same-sex couples their rights for much longer.” – Utah plaintiff Derek Kitchen

    –––

    “What is so powerful here is that we have the first federal appellate court and … it’s a case coming out of Utah affirming in the strongest, clearest, boldest terms that the Constitution guarantees the freedom to marry and equal protection for all Americans and all means all, including gay couples.” – Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry

    –––

    “The Church has been consistent in its support of marriage between a man and a woman and teaches that all people should be treated with respect. In anticipation that the case will be brought before the U.S. Supreme Court, it is our hope that the nation’s highest court will uphold traditional marriage.” – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, based in Salt Lake City

    –––

    “It’s just a wonderful victory today for the entire United States, for our due process, for our Constitution. This is a victory for humanity.” – Utah plaintiff Kate Call

    –––

    “We are disappointed that the 10th Circuit did not uphold Utah’s voter-approved marriage amendment that affirmed marriage as a one-man, one-woman union. Every child deserves a mom and a dad, and the people of Utah confirmed that at the ballot box.” – Kerri Kupec, Alliance Defending Freedom legal communications director

    –––

    “Today’s decision affirms what we all know to be true – the U.S. Constitution guarantees the basic civil rights of all Americans, not just some. Utah’s ban on marriage equality does nothing to strengthen or protect any marriage. Instead, it singles out thousands of loving Utah families for unfair treatment simply because of who they are. Our Constitution does not allow for such blatant discrimination.” – Chad Griffin, Human Rights Campaign president

    –––

    “This is a proud day for everybody in the state of Utah, and everybody across the country, who supports marriage equality. Though there is still much to do, the journey to ensuring the freedom to marry for all just got a huge boost with today’s decision.” – John Mejia, ACLU of Utah legal director

    –––

    “While judges can, by judicial fiat, declare same-sex `marriage' legal, they will never be able to make it right. The courts, for all their power, can’t overturn natural law.” – Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council Perkins

    –––

    “They are all very excited. It’s going to be a very important decision to have the court of appeals saying these kinds of laws violate the constitutional rights of same-sex couples.” – Denver attorney John McHugh, representing nine same-sex couples challenging Colorado’s gay marriage ban

    –––

    “Thousands of committed couples in Colorado are eagerly waiting for the opportunity to be married. While today’s ruling does not provide that immediate freedom, it does send a clear message that our state’s ban harms families and should not stand.” – Nathan Woodliff-Stanley, ACLU of Colorado executive director

    –––

    “We’re thrilled for the plaintiffs in Utah. We think this is wonderful news, and we’re excited to see our ruling coming soon.” – Sharon Baldwin, plaintiff in similar Oklahoma case pending with the 10th Circuit

    –––

    The 10th Circuit ruling shows what happens when “a few federal judges decide that they can unilaterally override the decision of Utah voters” to define marriage as between a man and woman. – Utah-based Sutherland Institute

    –––

    “Today’s decision is a victory not only for the courageous couples who brought the case forward in Utah, but for everyone who cares about protecting and supporting families. Following today’s historic ruling, there can be no doubt that our own state’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples violates the basic principles of fairness and equality that Coloradans hold dear.” – Dave Montez, One Colorado executive director

    –––

    “This is a whole new playing field now. It’s hugely momentous for Utah and the entire country.” – Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco

    Compiled from wire reports

— A federal appeals court ruled for the first time Wednesday that states cannot prevent gay couples from getting married, extending the movement’s legal winning streak and bringing the issue a big step closer to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The three-judge panel in Denver ruled 2-1 that states cannot deprive people of the fundamental right to marry simply because they choose a partner of the same sex.

“It is wholly illogical to believe that state recognition of love and commitment of same-sex couples will alter the most intimate and personal decisions of opposite-sex couples,” the judges wrote, addressing arguments that the ruling could undermine traditional marriage.

The decision by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel upheld a lower-court ruling that struck down Utah’s gay marriage ban. It becomes law in the six states covered by the 10th Circuit: Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming. But the panel immediately put the ruling on hold pending an appeal.

The Utah attorney general’s office planned to appeal the decision but it was assessing whether to go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court or ask the entire 10th Circuit to review the ruling, spokeswoman Missy Larsen said.

Wednesday’s decision “takes us one step closer to reaching certainty and finality,” the office said in a statement.

After the ruling, the couples named in the appeal hugged, cried and exchanged kisses at a news conference outside their attorney’s offices in downtown Salt Lake City.

“This decision is an absolute victory for fairness and equality for all families in Utah, in every state in the 10th Circuit and every state in this great nation of the United States,” said their attorney, Peggy Tomsic.

Plaintiff Derek Kitchen said he and his partner, Moudi Sbeity, are “so proud to be a part of history.”

The decision gives increased momentum to a legal cause that already has compiled an impressive record in the lower courts after the Supreme Court last year struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Since then, 16 federal judges have issued rulings siding with gay marriage advocates.

The latest of those rulings was in Indiana, where a federal judge threw out that state’s same-sex marriage ban Wednesday in a decision that immediately allows gay couples to wed. The Indiana and Utah rulings came just one day ahead of the first anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision striking down part of a federal anti-gay marriage law.

The Utah ruling is especially significant because it is the first appellate court to conclude that last year’s Supreme Court decision means states cannot deny gays the ability to marry.

In 2012, an appellate court struck down California’s gay marriage ban but said it was only ruling on that law, not the broader constitutional questions. There were no such caveats in Wednesday’s 65-page decision.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said Utah’s legal victory was sweeter because of where it originated – a conservative, deeply religious state in the heart of the mountain West.

“What is so powerful here is that we have the first federal appellate court and … it’s a case coming out of Utah affirming in the strongest, clearest, boldest terms that the Constitution guarantees the freedom to marry and equal protection for all Americans and all means all, including gay couples,” he said.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, based in Salt Lake City, said on its website that it maintains marriage should be between a man and a woman, but believes “all people should be treated with respect.”

In his dissent, Justice Paul J. Kelly Jr. said the 10th Circuit overstepped its authority and that states should be able to decide who can marry.

“We should resist the temptation to become philosopher-kings, imposing our views under the guise of the 14th Amendment,” Kelly wrote.

More than 1,000 Utah same-sex couples wed in December after the initial ruling in the case, before the Supreme Court issued a stay. Along with the Utah case, the 10th Circuit panel considered a challenge to Oklahoma’s ban. It did not immediately rule in that case Wednesday.

“While judges can, by judicial fiat, declare same-sex `marriage' legal, they will never be able to make it right,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. “The courts, for all their power, can’t overturn natural law.”

Though the Utah and Oklahoma cases have been closely watched, it’s unclear if one of them will be the first to reach the Supreme Court. The high court could choose from cases moving through five other federal appellate courts and wouldn’t consider a case until next year at the earliest.

WHAT'S NEXT?

The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver becomes law in the six states covered by the court: Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming. But gay marriages won’t be happening in those states – at least not right away – because the 10th Circuit immediately put its 2-1 decision on hold pending an appeal.

The Utah attorney general’s office plans to appeal but said Wednesday it is assessing whether to go directly to the nation’s highest court or ask the entire 10th Circuit to review the ruling.

IS THIS THE ONLY APPEALS COURT WITH A GAY MARRIAGE CASE?

No. Judges in a total of six federal appeals courts and one state appeals court are hearing appeals of lower court rulings that overturned gay marriage bans or ordered states to recognize out-of-state marriages. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments about Virginia’s ban in early May, and a ruling is expected soon. The other four appeals courts have yet to hear arguments.

WHAT TRIGGERED THE SERIES OF PRO-GAY MARRIAGE DECISIONS?

The Supreme Court last year found that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that forbade the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage improperly deprived gay couples of due process. That ruling came as polls showed a majority of Americans now support gay marriage.

Lower-court judges have repeatedly cited that Supreme Court decision when striking down same-sex marriage bans.

So far, federal and state judges have ruled against bans in Arkansas, Idaho, Michigan, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin and Indiana. They have ordered Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

Gay marriage is legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia.

WHEN DOES THE ISSUE RETURN TO THE SUPREME COURT?

Legal experts say the Supreme Court eventually will take a gay marriage case after one or more appeals court rulings, but that won’t happen until 2015 at the earliest. And the high court is under no obligation to take up the issue. The three-judge 10th Circuit panel is the first to rule out of six circuits hearing appeals.

In any of the appellate cases, the losing party can appeal directly to the Supreme Court, or first ask for the entire appellate court to review the ruling.

It’s unclear which case would reach the high court first. The Supreme Court also could hold off and see how the nation’s appellate courts rule. It often waits until there is a conflict between appellate courts before taking a case.

Merced Sun-Star is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service