Colorado governor says he supports gay marriage

DENVER—Gov. John Hickenlooper has come out as a supporter of gay marriage.

The Colorado Democrat has been a vocal backer of gay rights but generally stopped short of formally endorsing same-sex marriage. However, on Monday he provided a statement in support of a gay rights group that kicked off a campaign to bring gay marriage to Colorado.

“If all people are created equal,” Hickenlooper said in the statement, “then by extension of law, logic and love, every adult couple should also have the freedom to join in marriage.”

Hickenlooper last year signed a bill legalizing civil unions in Colorado, and spokesman Eric Brown said the governor has spoken at several gay marriage rallies. Hickenlooper is running for re-election this year. Colorado voters in 2006 banned gay marriage.

Gay rights groups on Monday pledged to pursue a ballot measure in 2016 to legalize gay marriage unless courts strike down Colorado’s ban first. Two lawsuits are making their way through state court to do just that.

Judges have struck down gay marriage bans in several conservative states recently. The appeals of those rulings will be heard in a federal court in Denver.

Colorado gay marriage supporters say if they lose in court, they will go to the ballot box to overturn the state’s ban.

Source: The Denver Post, “Colorado governor says he supports gay marriage,” The Associated Press, 03/04/2014 03:42:23 PM MST | Updated: a day ago

One Colorado’s V-Day Marriage Equality Video!

VIDEO: This Valentine’s Day, we are helping to spread the love by talking about why marriage matters to our families! Personal stories like the ones in our video below — highlighting loving, committed couples here in Colorado — are part of an important conversation that we need to be having with Coloradans in every corner of our state.

One Colorado’s V-Day Marriage Equality Video!

Lawyers Olson and Boies want Virginia as same-sex marriage test case

The legal team that overturned California’s ban on same-sex marriage is targeting Virginia to launch another challenge aimed at convincing the Supreme Court that gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry no matter where they live.

The American Foundation for Equal Rights — with its attention-getting political odd couple of conservative Republican lawyer Theodore Olson and liberal Democrat David Boies — will announce Monday it is joining a lawsuit against what the lawyers called Virginia’s “draconian” laws prohibiting same-sex marriages, the recognition of such marriages performed where they are legal, and civil unions.

Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post) - Attorneys Theodore Olson, left, and David Boies depart the Supreme Court after no decision in the Defense of Marriage Act case on June 24.

Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post) – Attorneys Theodore Olson, left, and David Boies depart the Supreme Court after no decision in the Defense of Marriage Act case on June 24.

It is one of dozens of lawsuits filed across the nation by same-sex marriage activists who say they feel emboldened by the Supreme Court’s decisions in June that overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that forbade recognition of same-sex marriages and separately allowed such unions to resume in California.

Despite the victories, the justices stopped short of finding that the Constitution requires that gays and lesbians be allowed to marry and left the matter, for now, to the states.

There are dozens of lawsuits filed in state and federal courts in 18 states, according to the Human Rights Campaign, and on Friday, a state judge in New Jersey ruled same-sex marriages must be allowed there. Gov. Chris Christie (R) is appealing.

But the ultimate goal is the recognition of a constitutional right, such as when the Supreme Court struck down Virginia’s ban on interracial marriages in the 1967 Loving v. Virginia decision.

The addition of Olson and Boies to a case in Norfolk willprobably bring more attention to the challenges to Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriages. The state’s voters in 2006 amended the state constitution to ban such marriages, as well as civil unions, and to forbid recognition of unions performed elsewhere. Thirteen states, including Maryland, plus the District of Columbia, allow gay marriage.

Olson said AFER was invited to join the case by attorneys for the plaintiffs, Norfolk residents Timothy Bostic and Tony London, whose marriage application was turned down, and Carol Schall and Mary Townley, who have a 15-year-old daughter and whose marriage in California is not recognized by the commonwealth.

Virginia is an “attractive target,” said Olson, who lives in the state, because its rejection of same-sex marriage and civil unions is so complete.

“The more unfairly people are being treated, the more obvious it is that it’s unconstitutional,” Olson said.

Olson and Boies, who were opposing counsel in the 2000 Supreme Court showdown in Bush v. Gore, received enormous attention when they teamed up to challenge California’s Proposition 8, which was passed by voters in 2008 to stop the same-sex marriages that the state’s high court had authorized.

The result was a full trial before U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker, who ruled that the California ban violated the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.

The case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, reached the Supreme Court last term. But the justices did not rule on the constitutional question, instead finding that those who were appealing Walker’s ruling did not have the legal standing to bring the challenge. Same-sex marriages resumed in the state almost immediately.

Olson said he did not anticipate a trial in the Norfolk proceedings before U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen, but the record from California “is a great foundation for us which we can convey into the federal courts in Virginia.”

This Virginia case is also attractive because it is moving quickly, at the state’s request. A second challenge, filed in the Western District of Virginia, is on a slower track.

Although Virginia’s constitutional amendment was easily approved, recent polling shows a majority of residents favor legalizing same-sex marriage. But Republicans who control the state’s political leadership and legislature are opposed, and removing the constitutional amendment would be difficult.

The constitution can be amended by voters only after a constitutional convention or if a proposed amendment is passed twice by the General Assembly, with an election occurring between the two votes.

While the Perry decision was important to Californians, the court’s 5-to-4 DOMA ruling in U.S. v. Windsor provides same-sex marriage supporters with the most hope. Even dissenting Justice Antonin Scalia said that while the decision purported to support state rights, it provided a road map for challenges to state bans.

The Norfolk complaint makes extensive use of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s majority opinion that DOMA “places same-sex couples in an untenable position” and “humiliates” the children raised by such couples.

The lawsuit compares the Virginia ban with Kennedy’s finding that “DOMA instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others.”

The Windsor decision “created a sense of urgency,” said Dale Carpenter, a University of Minnesota law professor who has studied the issue, especially because polling did not indicate the kind of public backlash as other court rulings that granted gay rights.

Since the decisions, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has officiated at a same-sex marriage, and last week former president George H.W. Bush was one of the witnesses for the marriage of a lesbian couple in Maine.

Sarah Warbelow, state legislative director of the Human Rights Campaign, said: “We had an opportunity to see where the Supreme Court was standing on the issue, and I think attorneys are increasingly confident that the court is ready to take up the whole nine yards.”

Suits have been filed across the country, many by the American Civil Liberties Union, and another leader in the race back to the Supreme Court might come from Pennsylvania. It has no constitutional prohibition and the Democratic attorney general has said she thinks the state law banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

But some supporters of same-sex marriage fear the suits are coming too fast. The justices turned down the chance to find a constitutional right to marry only months ago, and Kennedy’s opinion in Windsor also contained his caution that “history and tradition” give states the right to define marriage.

After giving the victories, the slim Supreme Court majority might favor letting the political process, rather than the judicial, take the lead.

Olson is unmoved by that theory.

“I’m not going to get into the justices and what they each said and what Justice Scalia said,” Olson said. “Given what was said in DOMA [decision] and given the record we made in California and given what we’re going to establish in Virginia, we’re going to be able to persuade a majority of the court that this is the right thing.”

Source: The Washington Post, January 24, 2014

Virginia to fight same-sex marriage ban

Jahi Chikwendiu/Post - Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring believes the state’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

Jahi Chikwendiu/Post – Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring believes the state’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring will announce Thursday that he believes the state’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional and that Virginia will join two same-sex couples in asking a federal court to strike it down, according to an official close to the attorney general with knowledge about the decision.

The action will mark a stunning reversal in the state’s legal position on same-sex marriage and is a result of November elections in which Democrats swept the state’s top offices. Herring’s predecessor, Republican Ken Cuccinelli II, adamantly opposes gay marriage and had vowed to defend Virginia’s constitutional amendment banning such unions, which was passed in 2006 with the support of 57 percent of voters.

Herring, too, had voted against same-sex marriage eight years ago, when he was a state senator. But he has said that his views have changed since then and that on Thursday he will file a supportive brief in a lawsuit in Norfolk that challenges the state’s ban, said two people familiar with his plans.

Herring will say that Virginia has been on the “wrong side” of landmark legal battles involving school desegregation, interracial marriage and single-sex education at the Virginia Military Institute, one official said. He will make the case that the commonwealth should be on the “right side of the law and history” in the battle over same-sex marriage.

He has not informed Republicans in Richmond about his plans; an uproar is likely. GOP lawmakers have worried that Herring would change the state’s position — such decisions are up to the attorney general — and have contemplated legislation that would allow them to defend the law in court.

The attorney general thinks that is unnecessary, the official said. The clerks of the circuit court in Norfolk and Prince William County are defendants in the suit, and both are represented by independent counsel.

Janet Rainey, the state registrar of vital records, is also a defendant. Although she and Herring will urge the court to strike down the ban, she will continue to enforce it until the courts act.

The move in Virginia is part of a quickly changing legal landscape reshaped by the Supreme Court’s rulings in two cases on same-sex marriage in June.

In one, U.S. v. Windsor, the court voted 5 to 4 to find unconstitutional a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act, which withheld federal recognition of same-sex marriages performed where they are legal and denied federal benefits to those in such unions.

In the other, it allowed to stand a federal judge’s opinion that California’s Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage, was unconstitutional. The court ruled that the case was not before it in a way that allowed a ruling on the merits.

The justices sidestepped a critical question: whether state bans on same-sex marriage violate the Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process.

But federal judges in Utah and Oklahoma have said that the reasoning used by the court majority meant that constitutional amendments in those states banning same-sex unions cannot stand. Gay marriages took place in Utah, but both decisions are now stayed pending appeal.

The highest courts in New Jersey and New Mexico have held that gay couples have the right to be married there. The District of Columbia and 17 states — including Maryland but not counting Utah and Oklahoma — now allow such unions.

The Obama administration took a position similar to Herring’s when it announced it would not defend DOMA, which Congress passed in 1996 and President Bill Clinton signed into law. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. joined the legal challenge against the key part of the law, and House Republicans hired a lawyer in an unsuccessful bid to save it.

Similarly, Democratic attorneys general in other states have said they think their bans are unconstitutional. Democrats in California refused to defend Proposition 8. And last summer, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane bowed out of challenges to her state’s law.

Herring, whose race against Republican Mark D. Obenshain was so close it was not decided until Dec. 18, has been in office just two weeks. But he faced a tight deadline in deciding whether to change the state’s legal position.

U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen has scheduled oral arguments for Jan. 30 in the Norfolk case. It received a jolt of attention last fall when lawyers Theodore B. Olson and David Boies, who brought the federal challenge of Proposition 8, announced that they were joining the plaintiffs’ side.

In addition, the American Civil Liberties Union is challenging the Virginia ban in a federal suit in Harrisonburg. That case is not as far along.

Virginia has been a particularly appealing place for a challenge by supporters of gay rights because of the Supreme Court’s 1967 decision in Loving v. Virginia, which struck down laws against interracial marriage. Those who support same-sex unions often draw a parallel.

Herring will make the same point, according to a person who has seen the brief he will file. The state will say that Loving upheld the fundamental right to marriage, not the right to interracial marriage. The question at stake now, the brief states, is not a right to same-sex marriage but whether the fundamental right to marriage can be denied to “loving couples based solely on their sexual orientation.”

Democrats are sensitive to charges that it is Herring’s duty to defend Virginia’s law regardless of whether he agrees with it. They point out that Cuccinelli refused to defend one of then-Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s education reforms in court, saying he believed that the legislation (for state takeovers of failing schools) was unconstitutional.

Herring also will say that the state’s law will be defended in the Norfolk challenge. Norfolk clerk George E. Schaefer is represented by a private lawyer paid by the state’s Department of Risk Management. Prince William clerk Michèle B. McQuigg, who asked to intervene in the case, is represented by the conservative legal group Alliance Defending Freedom.

Source: By Robert Barnes, The Washington Post, January 22, 2014

Gay marriage movement advancing slowly in Colorado

Many think courts are the most likely institution to change state’s law

Photo by: Brennan Linsley/Associated Press file photo Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, left, performs a civil-union vows ceremony for Sonja Semion, center left, and her partner Courtney Law at the Webb Municipal Building in Denver. Polls find a solid majority nationwide favoring gay marriage, and a series of new laws and court victories has led to 17 states permitting it. But in Colorado this year, the discussion at the Statehouse revolves around a proposal to allow a couple in a civil union to file taxes jointly as if they were married.

Photo by: Brennan Linsley/Associated Press file photo
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, left, performs a civil-union vows ceremony for Sonja Semion, center left, and her partner Courtney Law at the Webb Municipal Building in Denver. Polls find a solid majority nationwide favoring gay marriage, and a series of new laws and court victories has led to 17 states permitting it. But in Colorado this year, the discussion at the Statehouse revolves around a proposal to allow a couple in a civil union to file taxes jointly as if they were married.

Associated Press

DENVER – More than two years ago, Colorado was at the leading edge of the societal shift on same-sex marriage, when its moderate, conflict-adverse Democratic governor called a special legislative session that shamed Republicans for holding up a civil-unions bill. It was a rare example of Democrats going on the offensive on the issue.

Now, polls find a solid majority nationwide favoring gay marriage, and a series of new laws and court victories has led to 17 states permitting it. But in Colorado this year, the discussion at the statehouse revolves around a proposal to allow couples in civil unions to file state taxes jointly, as if they were married.

The deliberate pace stems from an irony in the struggle for gay marriage – the careful, incremental approach to the issue in places like Colorado paved the groundwork for the dramatic changes elsewhere. Indeed, Colorado gay-rights supporters are not even committing yet to putting a measure on the 2016 ballot to legalize same-sex marriage.

“We should have a good run at it and not get into something so important so quickly,” state Sen. Pat Steadman, a Democrat and author of the civil-unions law, said of a ballot measure for gay marriage.

The gay-rights debate in Colorado dates to 1992, when voters passed a measure barring any city or town from passing laws protecting gay rights. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned that measure, but the state became nationally known as a place unfriendly to gay people. By 2006, however, it had a Democratic governor and Legislature as social mores changed and coastal immigrants transformed its politics. Still, gay-rights groups were unable to defeat a same-sex marriage ban initiative or pass a competing measure to legalize civil unions.

Kenneth Upton, the Dallas-based senior counsel for Lambda Legal, said there was skepticism about a court-based challenge to Colorado’s marriage ban at the time.

“No one thought these cases were going to win in the middle of the country,” Upton said.

Instead, supporters spent years organizing and helping Democrats win state legislative races. Finally, last year, the Legislature passed the civil-unions law, and Gov. John Hickenlooper signed it.

Only on Oct. 31, 2013, did a gay couple file a lawsuit challenging the 2006 ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage. The existence of the civil-unions law will buttress their case because they can argue they have marriage in all but name, Upton said.

“It’s not as heavy a lift,” he said.

The legal fate of Colorado’s ban could hinge instead on recent cases in Oklahoma and Utah, where federal judges struck down similar laws, though not before more than 1,000 couples married in Utah ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court staying the ruling pending appeal. The appeals of those two cases will be heard by the 10th Circuit in Denver, and what it rules effectively will be law in Colorado.

Same-sex marriage supporters and detractors alike say the judicial system is more likely than the Colorado Legislature to change marriage policy in the near term. Democrats control both chambers, but a two-thirds majority is required to change the state constitution.

“I can count votes as well as the next legislator, and I know that’s not going to get through,” Steadman said.

Republicans needled him Tuesday on that point, saying the tax-filing measure Steadman sponsored belies a larger interest in changing marriage law.

“If you have the votes to change the state constitution, then do it. But you don’t,” said Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch.

Republicans fell a vote short of defeating the tax measure, which awaits a final Senate vote.

Dave Montez, executive director of the gay-rights group One Colorado, said more than marriage is at stake. It’s important to have elected officials who support gay people and laws that protect the community.

“There’s a difference between having a marriage license and feeling comfortable enough to put a picture of your spouse on your desk,” he said.

Nicolle Martin is an attorney who argued against the civil-unions law and represented a Denver baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple who were married in Massachusetts. She is no fan of Colorado’s law but prefers the way it came about to what courts are doing elsewhere.

“I think it’s a bad policy,” Martin said. “But I at least respect the process.”

Source: The Durango Herald, January 21, 2014

Federal judge strikes down Oklahoma ban on same-sex marriage

Judge says ban approved by Oklahoma voters in 2004 is unconstitutional, but he puts a hold on his ruling while the issue is appealed.

WASHINGTON — A federal judge in Tulsa struck down Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional on Tuesday but prevented his ruling from going into effect while the issue makes its way through appeals.


Photo – In this Oct. 10, 2013 photo, Sharon Baldwin, left, and Mary Bishop speak at East Central University in Ada, OK, as part of the ECU Gay-Straight Alliance’s National Coming Out Day event. (AP Photo/Eric Turner) Eric Turner

Senior U.S. District Judge Terrence C. Kern, ruling more than nine years after Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly approved a statewide question to prohibit same-sex marriage, said the ban discriminated against same-sex couples for no rational reason.

After dissecting the arguments supporters voiced to justify the ban, Kern said that “moral disapproval of homosexuals as a class, or same-sex marriage as a practice, is not a permissible justification.”

Moreover, he said, protecting the sanctity of marriage wasn’t a valid reason for the ban, given Oklahoma’s high divorce rate of opposite-sex couples, and encouraging procreation wasn’t logical either since opposite-sex couples aren’t required to say they’ll produce offspring in order to get a marriage license.

“Equal protection is at the very heart of our legal system and central to our consent to be governed,” Kern said in his 68-page decision.

“It is not a scarce commodity to be meted out begrudgingly or in short portions. Therefore, the majority view in Oklahoma must give way to individual constitutional rights.”

Don Holladay, the Norman attorney who took over the case after it lost steam several years ago, said Tuesday, “It’s a good victory for marriage equality. It’s a good victory for couples who have lived together for years in committed relationships.”

A federal judge in Utah last month struck down that state’s ban on gay marriage — passed in 2004, the same year as Oklahoma’s — and the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to hear an appeal from Utah on a fast track.

Oklahoma is in the same federal circuit as Utah, and Holladay said he hopes the two cases are combined. The U.S. Supreme Court last week put gay marriages on hold in Utah while the appeals court hears the case, but U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the marriages that already had occurred would be recognized by the federal government.

Leaders disappointed

Tulsa County Court Clerk Sally Howe Smith was the primary defendant in the challenge to the state ban because she declined to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple. She was represented in the case by an Arizona group called Alliance Defending Freedom.

Byron Babione, an attorney for the group, said Tuesday that Kern’s decision ignores the “time-tested and rational definition of marriage — affirmed by 76 percent of Oklahoma voters — and replaces it with the recently conceived notion that marriage is little more than special government recognition for close relationships.”

“A court should not impose this novel view of marriage on the people of Oklahoma. We will review the decision with our client, the Tulsa County clerk, and consider her next steps.”

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt called the decision “troubling” and said Tuesday that the issue “most likely will end up at the U.S. Supreme Court and the outcome will dictate whether Oklahoma’s constitutional provision will be upheld.”

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said, “I am disappointed in the judge’s ruling and troubled that the will of the people has once again been ignored by the federal government.”

Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the ACLU of Oklahoma, said, “We’re thrilled that the court has struck down this discriminatory law.”

‘So much emotion’

The lawsuit ruled on Tuesday was filed by two couples the day after the Oklahoma constitutional amendment was approved.

Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin, of Broken Arrow, who are both editors at the Tulsa World newspaper, challenged the state ban prohibiting same-sex marriages.

“There’s so much emotion; I’m kind of crying right now,” Bishop told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “It’s overwhelming to think that we finally won.

“Sharon and I want to get married here in Oklahoma. We’ve been together for more than 17 years — it’s time. This is something that when I was young, I thought I’d never see in my lifetime.”

Susan Barton and Gay Phillips, of Tulsa, who were married first in Canada and then in California, challenged the state law and the federal law that was struck down last year by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In his decision, Kern dismissed the complaints regarding the federal law, and said Barton and Gay did not have standing to sue the Tulsa County court clerk over the state’s prohibition on recognizing their out-of-state marriage because the clerk wasn’t the right person to sue over that issue.

Kern’s decision marked the third time a federal judge had struck down a state ban; Utah and California were the other states.

Kern, a 1994 appointee of former President Bill Clinton, said in his decision that civil marriage in Oklahoma “is not an institution with ‘moral’ requirements” for opposite-sex couples.

The Tulsa County court clerk, he said, “does not ask a couple if they intend to be faithful to one another, if they intend to procreate, or if they would someday consider divorce, thereby potentially leaving their child to be raised in a single-parent home.

“With respect to marriage licenses, the State has already opened the courthouse doors to opposite-sex couples without any moral, procreative, parenting, or fidelity requirements.

“Exclusion of just one class of citizens from receiving a marriage license based upon the perceived ‘threat’ they pose to the marital institution is, at bottom, an arbitrary exclusion based upon the majority’s disapproval of the defined class. It is also insulting to same-sex couples, who are human beings capable of forming loving, committed, enduring relationships.”

Previously: Utah decision spurs arguments in Oklahoma same-sex marriage case

Source: The Oklahoman,Federal judge strikes down Oklahoma ban on same-sex marriage,” By Chris Casteel Modified: January 14, 2014 at 9:31 pm • Published: January 14, 2014

BREAKING: Utah Gov. Strips Marriage Rights from Lawfully Wed Same-Sex Couples

Today Utah Governor Gary Herbert’s office directed state agencies not to recognize as valid the legal marriages of same-sex couples performed after a federal court ruled in favor of marriage equality in December.  Human Rights Campaign (HRC) president Chad Griffin issued the following statement:

“Today’s decision harms hundreds of Utah families and denies them the respect and basic protections that they deserve as legally married couples,” said HRC president Chad Griffin.  “Governor Herbert has once again planted himself firmly on the side of discrimination by preserving the second-class status he believes gay and lesbian Utahans merit. These families deserve better and I have no doubt the courts will soon grant them the justice and equality that our Constitution demands.”

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay in the marriage challenge while the lower court decision is on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. Before the stay was issued, more than 1,000 same-sex couples were legally married in Utah.

Source: BREAKING: Utah Gov. Strips Marriage Rights from Lawfully Wed Same-Sex Couples, January 8, 2014

Federal judge strikes down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage

Paul Fraughton | Salt Lake Tribune People gather at the amphitheater at Library Square for a vigil in support of gay marriage on March 25, 2013. Judge Robert J. Shelby ruled on Dec. 20 that Utah's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. The man on the right is unidentified.

Paul Fraughton | Salt Lake Tribune People gather at the amphitheater at Library Square for a vigil in support of gay marriage on March 25, 2013. Judge Robert J. Shelby ruled on Dec. 20 that Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. The man on the right is unidentified.

A federal judge in Utah Friday struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, saying the law violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process.

“The state’s current laws deny its gay and lesbian citizens their fundamental right to marry and, in so doing, demean the dignity of these same-sex couples for no rational reason,” wrote U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby. “Accordingly, the court finds that these laws are unconstitutional.”

Shelby’s ruling is the first decision to address whether a state may ban same-sex marriages or refuse to recognize legal same-sex marriages since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision this summer that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The Utah judge ruled just 16 days after he heard arguments in the case and well before his self-imposed deadline to render a decision by Jan. 7, when the next hearing in the matter was to be held.

“It feels unreal,” said Moudi Sbeity, who with his partner Derek L. Kitchen were plaintiffs in the case. “I’m just very thrilled that Derek and I will be able to get married soon, if all goes well and the state doesn’t appeal. We want a farmer’s market wedding because it’s where we spend a lot of time.”

The two make and sell Mediterranean-style spreads at farmer’s markets throughout Utah. Sbeity said he and Kitchen, both 25, had just heard the news from their attorney. Kitchen “just has a very large smile on his face,” Sbeity said.

The other plaintiffs in the lawsuit are: Karen Archer, 67, and Kate Call, 60; and Laurie Wood and Kody Partridge, 47. Archer and Call already have a marriage license issued in Iowa, but joined the lawsuit to protest that their legal marriage was not recognized in Utah. The other two couples applied for a license from the Salt Lake County Clerk’s office in March but were denied one.

Peggy A. Tomsic and James E. Magleby, who represented the plaintiffs, called the decision historic, saying in a statement that it brings “marriage equality to Utah, not only for the plaintiffs, but all other same-sex couples residing in Utah who desire to marry or have their legal marriage from another state recognized in Utah.”

“While the Utah decision only directly affects same-sex couples in Utah, it will provide legal precedent to support other plaintiffs’s constitutional challenges to similar state laws in the remaining states where there is marriage inequality,” the statement said.

“We cannot capture in words the gratitude and joy plaintiffs feel that Judge Shelby had the courage to declare, as the United States Constitution requires, that same-sex couples, like all other U.S. citizens and Utah residents, are constitutionally entitled to marriage equality in Utah.”

Tomsic said, however, that since the state is likely to appeal, the fight is not over. But she believes the ruling will prevail.

Shelby said that while he agreed with Utah that marriage has traditionally been left to regulation by the states, such laws must comply with the Constitution.

“The issue the court must address in this case is not who should define marriage, but the narrow question of whether Utah’s current definition of marriage is permissible under the Constitution,” the judge said.

Shelby acknowledged the politically charged climate that surrounds the issue and said that was particularly true in Utah, where 66 percent of voters approved the amendment banning same-sex marriage in 2004.

“It is only under exceptional circumstances that a court interferes with such action,” Shelby said. “But the legal issues presented in this lawsuit do not depend on whether Utah’s laws were the result of its Legislature or a referendum, or whether the laws passed by the widest or smallest of margins.”

The ACLU of Utah filed an amicus brief in the case and legal director John Mejia said Friday the organization was “thrilled” by the decision.

“We think that it was a discriminatory law that only served to deny loving and committed couples the protection and dignity of marriage,” he said. “We congratulate the brave plaintiffs for making such a historic stand and their legal team for putting up such a great fight.”

With the ruling, Utah becomes the 18th state where same-sex marriage has become legal through either court decisions, legislation or referendums.

Source: The Salt Lake Tribune, Brooke Adams
Published: December 20, 2013 02:07PM
Updated: December 20, 2013 03:00PM

Tribune reporter Erin Alberty contributed to this report.

New Mexico becomes the 17th state (plus DC) to legalize same-sex marriage


New Mexico’s Supreme Court on Thursday ruled a ban on gay marriages unconstitutional, making the state the 17th to allow same-sex unions.

Ten others recognize unions and partnerships while 33 limit marriages to opposite-sex couples. Most of the state bans on same-sex marriage are embedded in state constitutions.

Counties in New Mexico had already been issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, The Post’s Aaron Blake writes. And New Mexico hadn’t explicitly banned or allowed same-sex marriages.

Public opinion on the issue has flipped over the past decade. In 2003, 55 percent opposed gay marriage while 37 percent supported it. Today, 58 percent support it while 36 percent oppose, according to data compiled by The Post’s Masuma Ahuja and Emily Chow.

Further reading:

* New Mexico Supreme Court legalizes gay marriage

* Read the ruling

View an interactive map and data on public opinion.

Source: Washington Post, GovBeat, By Niraj Chokshi, Updated: December 19 at 2:33 pm

As Gays Wed in New Jersey, Christie Ends Court Fight

As Gays Wed in New Jersey, Christie Ends Court Fight

By and

As couples across New Jersey began marrying on Monday after the stroke of midnight, Gov. Chris Christie abandoned his long fight against same-sex marriage, concluding that signals from the court and the march of history were against him.

His decision not to appeal a judge’s ruling that allowed the weddings removed the last hurdle to legalized same-sex marriage in New Jersey, making it the 14th state, along with the District of Columbia, to allow gay couples to wed.

Mr. Christie’s advisers said it became clear late on Friday that the fight had to end after the State Supreme Court announced it would not grant the governor’s request to block same-sex marriages while he appealed.

Not only did the court decision say that his appeal had no “reasonable probability of success,” it was also unanimous — signed by the justices Mr. Christie has long warred against and by the one he considered on “his” side, Justice Anne M. Patterson.

The governor concluded that, legally, he was out of arguments, and that it would be what one aide called a “fool’s errand” to continue in the face of almost certain failure.

Politically, members of his staff bet that they could contain the damage by arguing that the governor had never changed his mind — he still opposes same-sex marriage — and blaming activist judges, which even critics of the governor’s decision began doing on Monday.

“He looks realistic, while sticking to his principles — and people are happy,” said one adviser who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss strategy.

Mr. Christie, a Republican widely considered a leading contender for his party’s presidential nomination in 2016, has long tried to walk a fine line on same-sex marriage, which polls show is popular in his home state, but opposed by conservative voters in important primary states. Last year, he vetoed legislation allowing same-sex marriage, saying voters should decide the issue in a referendum. As recently as last week, he repeated his position that he believed marriage to be between a man and a woman. But he also signed a bill outlawing so-called gay conversion therapy, which angered conservatives.

Even if he lost on the marriage issue, his aides said, Mr. Christie could still promote himself as the kind of politician voters embrace, because they know where he stands, even if they do not agree with him.

The dizzying events in New Jersey showed how quickly the politics of same-sex marriage have changed.

Starting at midnight and into early Monday, same-sex couples from Asbury Park to Jersey City wed in emotional ceremonies that had been hastily arranged after the court denied Mr. Christie’s request for a delay.

At 8:30 a.m., lawyers representing the couples who had sued to be allowed to marry received calls from the administration, telling them that the governor had dropped his appeal. In a conference call later, lawyers for Lambda Legal said that they expected to prevail with similar litigation in Nevada, Virginia and West Virginia, and that they were optimistic about their chances in the legislatures in Hawaii and Illinois.

“I think the handwriting was on the wall as clearly as it could possibly be,” said Lawrence S. Lustberg, a lawyer who argued the case for gay and lesbian couples before a trial court.

“The governor had always said he would fight this all the way up to the Supreme Court,” Mr. Lustberg added, “but he didn’t say he was going to fight it to the Supreme Court twice. As a matter of reasonable lawyering on the one hand, and a clear perception of what the court’s position was on the other, this was inevitable.”

Just four months ago, even advocates for same-sex marriage believed that the governor had firmly blocked it. A coalition of state and national gay rights groups was pushing to override his veto of same-sex marriage legislation, but they were far short of the votes they needed.

In September, Judge Mary C. Jacobson of State Superior Court ruled that the state had to allow gay marriages to comply with the United States Supreme Court decision in June that guaranteed same-sex married couples the same federal benefits as heterosexual married couples. In 2006, a New Jersey Supreme Court decision guaranteed equal protection to same-sex couples, which prompted the State Legislature to enact civil unions. But the United States Supreme Court decision meant that couples in civil unions did not have the same benefits as those in marriages.

A Rutgers Eagleton poll released on Monday found that a majority of respondents, including a majority of those supporting Mr. Christie in his bid for re-election on Nov. 5, did not want him to pursue the appeal.

Mr. Christie is trying to roll up as big a margin of victory as possible next month so he can cast himself as a presidential candidate who can win even in blue states. Continuing to oppose same-sex marriage against the images of the jubilant weddings might have hurt that effort.

His Democratic opponent, State Senator Barbara Buono, sought to remind voters that he had tried “to block the rights of gays and lesbians at every turn.”

“It took a determined effort by brave individuals,” Ms. Buono added, “and a unanimous decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court to force the governor to drop his appeal. I am thrilled the court ended his ability to enforce his bigoted views that are contrary to the values of our state.”

But even prominent Republican donors had been among those financing a campaign to override Mr. Christie’s veto, suggesting that the national politics of same-sex marriage might be shifting. Aides to the governor acknowledged that his decision might alienate primary voters who already doubt his social conservative credentials, but they added that he was never going to have an easy time in the Iowa presidential caucuses.

Still, the administration was not exactly celebrating the position it was in. Announcements from Mr. Christie’s office typically arrive with a news release, a video and a Twitter post. This one came in a sober note from a spokesman to reporters early on Monday; there was no announcement on the governor’s Web site.

“Although the governor strongly disagrees with the court substituting its judgment for the constitutional process of the elected branches or a vote of the people,” the note said, “the court has now spoken clearly as to their view of the New Jersey Constitution and, therefore, same-sex marriage is the law.

“The governor will do his constitutional duty and ensure his administration enforces the law as dictated by the New Jersey Supreme Court.”

National conservative groups criticized “an activist judiciary run amok,” in the words of the National Organization for Marriage. But they also had harsh words for Mr. Christie, for, as the organization said, “throwing in the towel.”

“The mark of a leader is to walk a principled walk no matter the difficulty of the path,” said the statement from the organization’s president, Brian Brown. “Chris Christie has failed the test, abandoning both voters and the core institution of society: marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 22, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated the court where oral arguments regarding gay marriage were made. Lawrence S. Lustberg argued the case for gay and lesbian couples before a trial court, not before the State Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, which denied the Christie administration’s request for a delay in the start of gay marriages, decided the case based on legal filings; there were no oral arguments.

Source: The New York Times “As Gays Wed in New Jersey, Christie Ends Court Fight”