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Federal Courts Prep for Marriage Mega-Ruling

By Matt Baume

Get ready for six upcoming rulings in marriage cases, following an intense multi-case hearing in federal court. AFER’s attorneys have asked for an immediate start to weddings in Virginia, rather than wait for an appeal. And two more wins in Florida bring the victory tally to four.

Last week the Sixth circuit heard oral argument in six separate marriage equality cases, which means that all six cases are now due for a ruling any day. There’s no way to predict how the court will rule, but the three judges raised issues involving previous lawsuits, public opinion, and how marriage laws impact children. A decision could come at any time, and might cover one or multiple cases. However the court rules, parties are likely to petition the U. S. Supreme Court for review.

At least three other states will be sending cases to the Supreme Court as well. Last week, Utah petitioned the Supreme Court to hear its case, on the grounds that states, not the federal government, should decide issues relating to marriage — even when those issues involve the federal constitution. An Oklahoma official filed a Supreme Court petition the next day, on similar grounds.

The third state approaching the Supreme Court is Virginia. An court there just upheld a ruling that marriage bans are unconstitutional, but stayed the decision pending appeal. Last week AFER attorneys argued that the court should lift that stay, since it’s causing irreparable harm to the plaintiff couples. State officials filed a petition to the Supreme Court on Friday of last week.

Florida has won two new victories for marriage equality. The first came in Broward County, where Judge Dale Cohen ruled that “To discriminate based on sexual orientation…is against all that this country holds dear.” The second came in Palm Beach, where Circuit Judge Diana Lewis issued a narrow ruling that upheld spousal rights following a death. Last last week, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi asked state courts to stop ruling on marriage equality until the U. S. Supreme Court has a chance to weigh in.

There’s been some action in western states this week. Wisconsin organizers have formed a new group called Wisconsin Unites for Marriage. Their goal is public education while also persuading Attorney General J. B. Van Hollen to drop his defense of the state’s marriage ban. A federal judge ruled against Wisconsin’s law in June, and oral argument in an appeal is scheduled for August 26th, along with a hearing on an Indiana case.

39 Comments August 11, 2014

Surprisingly Strong Colorado Victories

By Matt Baume

This week I’m back in California, where we just celebrated one year of marriage equality. It was in late June that the AFER’s case to overturn Prop 8 finally concluded and equality was restored. Now, we’re awaiting a ruling in AFER’s Virginia case. We’ve already won at the district court level, and now the Fourth Circuit could rule on an appeal any day.

Also this week, a Colorado judge will allow marriages to continue, even though the state’s marriage ban is still on the books. A ruling from the U. S. Supreme Court means marriage is safe in Pennsylvania. We have a new case in Idaho, briefs in multiple states, and a new survey in Louisiana.

We have two huge rulings in Colorado this week. The first is a state court ruling that Colorado’s marriage ban violates the U. S. Constitution. The second is a ruling that Boulder County Clerk Hillary Hall can continue to issue marriage licenses, even though the ban hasn’t yet been overturned.

Boulder has been issuing licenses for about a week. And following the ruling that they can continue, they’ve been joined by Denver and Pueblo County. Hundreds of couples have so far been married in Colorado. Attorney General John Suthers has promised to appeal the ruling to try to stop the marriages. But Governor John Hickenlooper has asked him not to, saying that the licenses put Colorado on “the right side of history.”

Marriage equality won another victory in Pennsylvania last week, this time from the U. S. Supreme Court. Justice Samuel Alito rejected an attempt by a local clerk to stop the marriages.

Wisconsin and Indiana are both on the fast track to a marriage decision. Last week the 7th Circuit set and expedited schedule that should have both states fully briefed by mid-August.

The opening brief in Indiana is due on Tuesday of this week. And a brief in a Texas case is due on Wednesday. And we’re expecting a ruling any day now in a case from Key West, Florida. At a hearing last week, anti-gay lawyers claimed that marriage equality has “negative consequences” but couldn’t actually name any.

There’s a new lawsuit in Idaho. A lesbian veteran has sued the state for the right to be buried next to her spouse. And a new survey in Louisiana shows that support for marriage equality is still low, at 32%, but steadily rising year after year.

All in all, it’s been an intensely busy week for marriage equality victories — with more likely to come.

210 Comments July 15, 2014

More Marriage Equality Wins in Western States

By Matt Baume

This week I’m in Washington DC, where in one year we’re all but guaranteed to have a ruling on the freedom to marry. We also have major milestones to report this week in Utah and Indiana.

Marriage equality got a huge victory last week, with an appeals court upholding a ruling that Utah’s marriage ban is unconstitutional. It was last December that a lower court first ruled against Utah’s ban, and hundreds of couples were able to wed during a brief window.

Now the case goes to the U. S. Supreme Court, which may take the case, or decline to hear it, this fall. If they hear the case, we’ll likely have a ruling in June of 2015. If they don’t, marriage could start back up again in Utah before the end of this year.

But in the mean time, some clerks in Colorado have started issuing marriage licenses now. Colorado is in the same circuit as Utah, and the clerks have explained that last week’s ruling requires them to set aside Colorado’s marriage ban.

There’s also been a major ruling in Indiana. Once again, a federal court has found a marriage equality ban to violate the U. S. Constitution. This time, the court did not delay the issuing of marriage licenses, and couples were able to begin marrying in Indiana for a few days.

On Friday, the Seventh Circuit halted the marriages while the state appeals the lower court’s ruling. As in Utah, this case is on track to the U. S. Supreme Court, although it may not reach the court in time for its next upcoming session.

The next states to watch are Oklahoma and Virginia. Both cases could get a ruling any day now. They would then join Utah in petitioning the Supreme Court. We also have big news in Louisiana: Judge Martin Feldman has expended the scope of a narrow marriage case to cover marriage equality in general. We can expect a major ruling in Louisiana in the next few months.

Also last week, St. Louis Mayor Francis G. Slay married four couples in his office. Missouri’s marriage ban is still on the books, so it’s unclear whether these marriage licenses are valid. Missouri has had a pending marriage case for months, and just this past week gained a second.

Also last week, the Justice Department issued a report calling for the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act. And Senator Susan Collins of Maine has become the fourth Republican Senator to endorse marriage equality.

19 Comments July 1, 2014

Marriages on Hold in Wisconsin

By Matt Baume

Starting this week, Marriage News Watch is getting out of the office and traveling around the country. We’ll be visiting various states to see what’s happening with marriage equality. This week, we’re in Nevada, and we also have news from Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona, North Carolina and more.

So what’s happening with marriage in Nevada? A judge ruled against equality back in 2012. That was a setback, but a lot has changed since then. A separate case established a higher standard of review in cases involving LGBT discrimination, so there’s a good chance that ruling could be overturned on appeal.

The situation in Wisconsin is still changing by the day. As of Monday, some clerks are issuing licenses and others aren’t. We should get clarification in the next few days on whether those licenses can continue. Meanwhile, the state is pressing ahead with its appeal.

There’s a new lawsuit in Michigan. Two men are suing the state for recognition after they married in New York. One of the men has brain cancer, so they urgently need recognition for their relationship.

There’s also a new lawsuit in Alabama. This is the third suit in that state. And a second lawsuit was just filed in North Dakota.

Meanwhile in North Carolina, the state has filed a response to a marriage lawsuit there. The United Church of Christ sued the state to overturn the marriage ban. Now the state has requested a halt in the proceedings, pending a ruling from the Fourth Circuit in AFER’s Virginia case. A West Virginia case has been similarly halted while we await that Virginia decision, which could come any day.

A new study from the Williams Institute shows that marriage equality would mean $62 million for the economy of Arizona. And in Indiana, organizers have launched a new public outreach campaign to promote the freedom to marry called Hoosiers United for Marriage.

192 Comments June 17, 2014

Marriage Confusion in Wisconsin

By Matt Baume

Wisconsin’s marriage ban is unconstitutional. There’ve been more big defeats for the National Organization for Marriage. Utah officials resist a ruling that they must recognize the marriage licenses that the state issued to gay and lesbian couples last winter. And Pennsylvania voters show their support for the freedom to marry.

Late on Friday, District Court Judge Barbara Crabb ruled that Wisconsin’s ban violates the equal protection clause of the US Constitution. Right now it looks like marriage can’t start yet. Plaintiffs will need to file some additional briefs, and have until June 16th to do so. Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen will appeal the decision, so the case is still far from over.

But marriage is safe in Oregon. The US Supreme Court last week rejected an attempt by the National Organization for Marriage to stop the state from issuing licenses. This is the fourth in a long string of defeats for NOM in Oregon. They had tried to intervene very late in the marriage case, and they’ve been denied at every turn. NOM has one more pending issue: an appeal to the Ninth Circuit for permission to intervene. It’s very unlikely that they’ll be successful. And in the meantime, marriage equality will continue throughout the state, just in time for Pride.

Anti-gay groups got a similar ruling this week in Florida. Groups that campaigned to pass an anti-gay ballot measure had attempted to intervene in a lawsuit challenging Florida’s marriage ban. But Judge Sarah Zabel has ruled that marriage equality poses no threat to those groups and they therefore have no standing to participate in the case. Oral argument is scheduled for July 2.

NOM also got some bad news from the IRS last week. For years, NOM has been claiming that the IRS was part of a vast conspiracy to leak an old tax return of theirs. But now a judge has ruled that, in fact, there was no conspiracy, no gross negligence, and no hope for NOM to win putative damages. According to the court, an IRS employee simply forgot to redact some information a few years ago. This will hopefully put an end to one of NOM’s persistent talking points about being the victims of an organized persecution.

The state of Utah is pulling out all the stops to avoid recognizing married gay and lesbian couples. A district court ruled that they must honor the licenses that the state issued several months ago, but Utah officials announced last week that they will appeal that decision. The Tenth Circuit has issued a one-week stay of the ruling while they consider the appeal.

Last week we reported that a North Dakota lawsuit would be filed within 6 to 8 weeks. But the legal team there is apparently moving fast, because that suit was filed on Friday. That means that every single marriage ban in the country faces at least one legal challenge.

A new survey in Pennsylvania shows that most voters approve of Republican Governor Tom Corbett’s decision to not fight marriage equality. According to Public Policy Polling, 56 percent say he made the right decision, with just 33 percent opposing the governor’s move. Marriage has been legal in Pennsylvania since May 20th.

117 Comments June 9, 2014

US Supreme Court Considers Marriage Case This Week

Marriage finally comes to Illinois, months after the state passed a marriage equality bill. Numerous states schedule marriage case milestones for this summer. The Attorney General of Florida insists that a marriage ban is necessary but can’t explain why. And the US Supreme Court will take a look at marriage in Oregon this week.

Illinois passed a marriage bill more than six months ago, and now it’s finally taking effect. A handful of counties started issuing licenses a few months ago, but as of this week, the entire state now enjoys the freedom to marry.

And over the next few months, we could have more good news in several other states. The Fifth Circuit has set a briefing schedule in a Texas case. Opening briefs there are due July 9, with a reply due in August. In Michigan, a marriage case is now scheduled for oral argument on August 6. In Nevada, the Sixth Circuit has committed to holding oral argument in September. And although they haven’t set a day yet, a separate case in Idaho is already scheduled for argument before the Sixth Circuit on September 8.

Cases are also heating up in Wisconsin. The state Supreme Court has declined to hear a state lawsuit against Wisconsin’s marriage ban. That leaves a federal suit still in play, with a ruling due at any time. Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has asked the court to stay its eventual decision, which if granted would delay marriages from starting until the state could file an appeal. The plaintiffs have countered that the state can’t show evidence that an immediate start to marriages would cause any harm.

At this point, North Dakota is the one state left in the country that has an unchallenged marriage ban. And now we have a rough timeline for that final suit to be filed. Attorney Joshua Newville, who filed a marriage lawsuit in South Dakota last month, says he’ll be ready to file a North Dakota suit in six to eight weeks.

Meanwhile Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is struggling to justify the state’s marriage ban. According to new briefs, Bondi claims that the ban promotes stable families, but can’t explain how. And she says that the ban keeps heterosexual parents together, but can’t explain that one either.

The National Organization for Marriage is still struggling to stop marriage in Oregon. They’ve asked the US Supreme Court to halt the licenses, which the state’s been issuing since a marriage ban was overturned last month. Justice Kennedy will consider their request this week.

NOM’s chances of accomplishing anything here are not great. This is different from other states where marriage was put on hold, since there’s no pending appeal in the Oregon case. NOM might want to intervene, but they’ve failed to do that once already. In fact, in their application to the Supreme Court, NOM conveniently omitted the District Court’s ruling that they didn’t have standing.

Meanwhile, NOM’s problems in Maine are still far from over. They’ve just been fined over $50,000 and ordered to reveal the donors to their 2009 campaign to ban marriage. Now they say they’ll appeal that ruling, which could drag things out for another year at a time when the organization is already spread too thin to have much impact.

33 Comments June 3, 2014

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