Holder: DOJ will file brief in favor of same-sex marriage

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U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told ABC News’ Pierre Thomas on Monday that the Justice Department will be filing a brief in the Utah same-sex marriage case urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold a lower-court ruling and block states from banning same-sex marriage.

District Judge Robert J. Shelby ruled last December that Utah’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. A three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling last month, and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes announced that instead of asking the full 10th Circuit Court to review the case, he would appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Holder said that filing the brief would be “consistent with the actions we have taken over the past couple of years,” in which the Justice Department has refused to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Holder said that decision was “vindicated by the Supreme Court,” which ruled last year in Windsor vs. United States that the sections of DOMA allowing the federal government not to recognize same-sex marriages performed in jurisdictions that recognize such marriages are unconstitutional.

Holder told Thomas that he believes banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional and that such bans cannot survive the standard of heightened scrutiny. He called the fight for LGBT rights “a defining civil rights challenge of our time,” and that LGBT people are waiting for an “unequivocal declaration that separate is inherently unequal.”

 

—  Tammye Nash

BREAKING: Marriage equality win in Colorado

Colorado state District Court Judge C. Scott Crabtree ruled Wednesday that Colorado’s ban on same-sex marriage, approved by voters in 2006, is unconstitutional. But Crabtree immediately stayed his ruling as the case moves through the appeals process, Reuters has reported.

In his ruling, Crabtree wrote: “There is no rational relationship between any legitimate governmental purpose and the marriage bans.”

Also on Wednesday, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes announced he will appeal a ruling by a three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit appeals court directly to the U.S. Supreme Court rather than asking for the full 10th Circuit court to rehear the case.

Same-sex marriage is now legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia, and lawsuits challenging same-sex marriage bans are headed to the U.S. Supreme Court while two other lawsuits challenging bans in Oklahoma and Virginia have already been heard by appellate courts.

—  Tammye Nash

Colorado clerks begin issuing marriage licenses

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Couples can marry in Boulder … for now.

As a result of the Tenth Circuit’s ruling yesterday that struck down the Utah marriage ban, Boulder County has begun issuing marriage licenses. Lafayette and Longmont counties will begin on Friday, according to the Denver Post.

Colorado is in the same circuit as Utah, so the Boulder County clerk said the ruling applies to her state. The attorney general disagrees and said the licenses won’t be valid.

By the end of the Wednesday, two couples were married. Boulder’s county clerk said she will continue issuing licenses today.

On Wednesday, the Tenth Circuit issued a split ruling declaring Utah’s marriage ban unconstitutional. The court put a stay on its ruling until it’s heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. The stay only mentions Utah, not Colorado, and Boulder’s county clerk acted after advice from the county’s legal staff. The circuit also encompassed Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Wyoming.

The attorney general’s actions indicate that Colorado will not accept the decision of the court in its marriage cases, as the Oregon attorney general did several weeks ago, and will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

—  David Taffet

BREAKING: Tenth Circuit upholds marriage equality in Utah

10th CircuitThe Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the lower court ruling in the Utah marriage discrimination case — Kitchen v. Herbert — that the U.S. Constitution guarantees same-sex couples due process and equal protection.

This is the first ruling by an appellate court since the landmark U.S. v. Windsor case was decided last June, striking down part of the Defense of Marriage Act and instructing the federal government to recognize marriages of same-sex couples.

“Today’s decision by the Tenth Circuit affirms the fundamental principles of equality and fairness and the common humanity of gay and lesbian people,” said Peggy Tomsic, one of the attorneys in the case. “As the Court recognized, these families are part of Utah’s community, and equal protection requires that they be given the same legal protections and respect as other families in this state.  The Court’s ruling is a victory not only for the courageous couples who brought this case, but for our entire state and every state within the Tenth Circuit.”

The 10th Circuit also heard the Oklahoma marriage discrimination case the same day, and is expected to hand down its ruling in the case any time now.

—  David Taffet

Federal government will recognize Utah same-sex marriages

Screen shot 2014-01-10 at 12.21.53 PMAttorney General Eric Holder said for the purpose of receiving federal benefits, the more than 1,000 marriages performed in Utah are valid.

He said that since the Windsor decision issued in June 2013, the Justice Department has been working tirelessly to implement it.

“These couples should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their status as the litigation unfolds,” he said.

Same-sex marriage became legal in Utah after a court ruling on Dec. 20. It remained legal until Jan. 6 when the state obtained an injunction.

Today, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes instructed county clerks to finish the paperwork for those marriages that had been solemnized despite the injunction. He said the paperwork is an administrative function, not a legal one, so the state will continue not to recognize those marriages as valid.

View the video of Eric Holder here.

—  David Taffet

UPDATE: Justices block gay marriages in Utah during appeal of case

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Justice Sonia Sotomayor

UPDATE: 

The full U.S. Supreme Court has granted Utah a stay on a district court decision that has allowed same-sex couples to marry there since Dec. 20.

The court issued its stay Monday, apparently after Justice Sonia Sotomayor referred the matter to the full court.  Sotomayor is the justice designated to administer requests for emergency stays for the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals but had the option to ask the full court to weigh in on the request.

It takes at least five justices to grant such a stay. The order issued today does not indicate that any justice was in dissent. It states simply that the stay is granted and that the Dec. 20 order by U.S. District Court that prohibited Utah from enforcing its ban is “stayed pending final disposition” of the appeal of that decision to the 10th Circuit. Given the 10th Circuit’s briefing schedule for the appeal, that means the ban will be in force for at least three months and likely longer, given anticipated appeals of whatever the 10th Circuit decides.

Peggy Tomsic and James Magleby, with the private law firm of Magleby & Greenwood which is representing same-sex couples in the case, issued a statement following the Supreme Court’s announcement, noting that it is “not unusual” for the court to stay a decision declaring a state law unconstitutional pending appeal and has “no bearing on who will win on appeal.”

LGBT legal activists agreed.

“No one should draw any negative inferences about where the Court is leaning. This is an unprecedented situation,” said Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which has several marriage equality lawsuits pending now, too. “Never before has a federal court struck down a state marriage law and then declined to stay it, and never before has a Court of Appeals also declined to issue a stay.  For those reasons, the chances that the Supreme Court would issue a stay until the appeal is resolved were always quite high, so the real news here is that so many marriages were able to take place. And it is significant that the Court did not rush to act. There is nothing unusual about the issuance of a stay when a federal court strikes down a state law on federal grounds. Bottom line [is] the prospects for this case still look very bright. And there will never be any going back in Utah.”

The challenge to Utah’s ban (the state constitutional Amendment 3 and related statutes), Kitchen v. Herbert, now proceeds as Herbert v. Kitchen on an expedited schedule before the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. The next briefing date, according to Tomsic is Jan. 27. The last brief due before oral argument is Feb. 25. The court date has not yet been announced but the next argument session after that deadline is March 17-21.

The Deseret News reports that more than 900 same-sex couples have married since Dec. 20, when District Judge Robert Shelby, an Obama appointee, issued a 53-page opinion, striking down Utah’s ban, ruling it violates the U.S. Constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process. Shelby immediately enjoined the state from enforcing its ban, then denied the state’s request for a stay of his decision pending appeal. The state took its request for an emergency stay to the 10 Circuit, where it also filed an appeal of Shelby’s decision. Two judges of the 10th Circuit — one an appointee of President George W. Bush, the other an appointee of President Obama — denied the request for a stay on Dec. 24 but put the appeal on an expedited schedule.

“This stay is obviously disappointing for the families in Utah who need the protection of marriage and now have to wait to get married until the appeal is over,” Magleby said. “Every day that goes by, same-sex couples and their children are being harmed by not being able to marry and be treated equally.”

 

ORIGINAL STORY:

The U.S. Supreme Court put same-sex marriages on hold in Utah Monday morning, bringing the marriage equality state count down to 17.

Since Judge Robert Shelby ordered Utah to begin issuing marriage licenses, more than 900 couples have married in the state.

The appeals court in Denver will hear the emergency appeal. That court has already refused to stop marriage equality in Utah twice since Shelby’s order. The appeal was filed with Justice Sonia Sotomayor because she is in charge of the 10th Circuit, which includes Utah.

Sotomayor could either issue the stay herself or turn it over to the entire court to decide. She turned it over to the court and a majority voted to issue the stay.

—  David Taffet

Utah’s petition for stay in same-sex marriage case moves to Sotomayor

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is pondering whether to grant a stay of a federal district court’s order that the state of Utah stop enforcing its ban on marriage for same-sex couples.

The state’s new attorney general filed a petition Tuesday to the court to grant the emergency stay, after being denied a stay by the federal district court and the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Sotomayor is the justice designated to handle such requests from the 10th Circuit. She can either make a decision about the stay on her own or ask the full court to weigh in. If she refuses to grant the stay, Utah has the option of asking the full court to consider its request.

The brief filed on behalf of Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, sworn into office Dec. 30, 2013, and Gov. Gary Herbert, both Republicans, relies on a statement in the Supreme Court’s two marriage decisions last June. The brief says the U.S. v. Windsor decision striking the Defense of Marriage Act’s key provision made clear that the federal government “cannot constitutionally disregard State laws allowing same-sex marriage.”

But the federal district court decision in Kitchen v. Herbert, says the state, “found no animus behind Utah’s marriage laws,” and yet exercised “an outright abrogation” of the state’s definition of marriage.

The brief calls each same-sex marriage in Utah “an affront” to the state and its citizens’ ability to define marriage “through ordinary democratic channels.” It argues that a stay is necessary to “minimize the enormous disruption” that might be caused by “potentially having to ‘unwind’ thousands more same-sex marriages….”

Utah voters adopted the ban on same-sex marriage and any other form of same-sex relationship in 2004 through a ballot measure known as Amendment 3 to the state constitution. Two other statutes enforce that ban. On December 20, in a lawsuit brought by the ACLU, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby declared the ban unconstitutional.

In making its case for a stay, Utah’s brief said the question presented by Kitchen is “the same question” presented by last session’s Proposition 8 case. But unlike Hollingsworth v. Perry, said the Utah brief, the Kitchen case presents no questions concerning legal standing. Last June, the Supreme Court declined to rule on the constitutionality of California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage because the party appealing the case lacked legal standing to do so.

Meanwhile, the Utah Legislature is preparing to take up yet another constitutional amendment — one to specify that churches cannot be made to host same-sex marriage ceremonies in violation of their religious views. There seems to be less controversy surrounding this new ban. Openly gay state Senator Jim Debakis told the Salt Lake City Tribune  he doesn’t know of anyone who wants to force churches to perform ceremonies against their beliefs. The Legislature convenes January 27.

Local papers have reported that between 700 and 900 marriage licenses have been issued to same-sex couples since the December 20 order barring further enforcement of Amendment 3.

LISA KEEN  |  Keen News Service

—  Steve Ramos

Hill Air Force Base to allow same-sex weddings

6307683With same-sex marriage legal in Utah, Hill Air Force Base, near Ogden, has become one of the few U.S. military installations where such unions can be performed, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

The Tribune reported that as of Thursday, no same-sex marriages had occurred at Hill, said base spokesman Richard Essary, who said he conferred with chaplains there. But Essary confirmed such ceremonies will be allowed at Hill, which has more than 20,000 military and civilian personnel.

The U.S. military allows same-sex marriage ceremonies on installations in states that recognize gay marriage, but with the highest concentration of U.S. military installations in southern states that ban such unions, few brides and grooms have gotten to wear their dress uniforms in a same-sex ceremony and walk under an archway of sabres or rifles.

Utah became the 18th state to allow same-sex marriage when federal Judge Robert J. Shelby struck down the state’s Amendment 3 this month. That’s not to say same-sex couples will be a new phenomenon at Hill.

Master Sgt. Angela Shunk and Tech Sgt. Stacey Shunk were transferred to Hill from Aviano Air Base, Italy, earlier this year as the first same-sex couple to be receive what the military calls a join spouse assignment, according to a September article in Stars and Stripes.

—  Steve Ramos

Marriage equality gains legal ground in three states

Federal judges in three states advanced marriage equality lawsuits Monday.Marriage-Equality-Bumper-Sticker-(7423)

One of two lawsuits challenging Virginia’s ban on recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples advanced after a federal judge denied the state’s motion to dismiss the case. Judge Michael Urbanski of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia (Harrisonburg) issued a 17-page memorandum, saying, “It is abundantly clear that plaintiffs’ alleged harm is actual, concrete, and particularized.”

Harris v. McDonnell is a challenge organized by Lambda Legal and the ACLU for two lesbian couples. One couple would like to marry in Virginia; the other has married in the District of Columbia and would like their marriage recognized in Virginia.

Citing sovereign immunity, the judge did dismiss the suit as it was applied to Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, but the lawsuit will proceed with chief defendant Thomas Roberts, the clerk of the Staunton Circuit Court and Janet Rainey, the state registrar.

In Ohio, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black issued a 50-page decision, saying the state constitution’s ban on recognizing same-sex married couples violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of due process and equal protection.

The lawsuit was Obergefell v. Wymyslo, in which two surviving spouses sought the right to be identified as such on the death certificates of their spouses.

Citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in U.S. v. Windsor, Black said, “It is beyond debate that it is constitutionally prohibited to single out and disadvantage an unpopular group.”

Black issued a permanent injunction against the state from refusing to identify a deceased person’s same-sex spouse on his death certificate.

“Dying with an incorrect death certificate that prohibits the deceased Plaintiffs from being buried with dignity constitutes irreparable harm,” Black wrote. Ohio Attorney General Michael DeWine said the state will appeal the decision to the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

And in Utah, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby denied Utah’s request to delay the effect of his December 20 order that the state stop enforcing its ban on same-sex couples marrying.

The Salt Lake City Tribune reported that shortly after Shelby denied the stay, “hundreds” of same-sex couples began applying for marriage licenses around the state.

Republican Gov. Gary Herbert’s administration then asked the Tenth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to issue a stay of Shelby’s order, pending the state’s appeal of Shelby’s decision that the ban on same-sex marriages is unconstitutional.

LISA KEEN  |  Keen News Service

—  Steve Ramos

Utah gay marriage ban struck down as unconstitutional

UnknownA federal judge in Utah just issued a decision striking down that state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Obama appointee Judge Robert Shelby issued a 53-page decision, in Kitchen v. Herbert, saying the state’s current definition of marriage is not permissible under the U.S. Constitution.

Noting that a court interferes with a law adopted by voters “only under exceptional circumstances,” Shelby said, “Utah’s prohibition on same- sex marriage conflicts with the United States Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process under the law.”

“The state’s current laws deny its gay and lesbian citizens their fundamental right to marry,” wrote Shelby, “and, in so doing, demean the dignity of these same-sex couples for no rational reason.”

Shelby’s order immediately enjoined the state from enforcing its ban, but Republican Gov. Gary Herbert’s administration will almost certainly seek an emergency stay of the decision from the 10th  Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

It is, nevertheless, yet another surge of momentum in the direction of marriage equality in the United States, coming just one day after the New Mexico Supreme Court said that state could no longer interpret its marriage laws to exclude same-sex couples. That decision made New Mexico the 17th state in the country, plus the District of Columbia, to provide marriage equality and putting more than one-third of the states and one-third of the the nation’s population in jurisdictions that treat same-sex couples the same as straight couples.

LISA KEEN  |  Keen News Service

—  Steve Ramos