A three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today stuck down Nevada’s constitutional and statutory ban on gay marriage, ruling “We hold that the Idaho and Nevada laws at issue violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because they deny lesbians and gays who wish to marry persons of the same sex a right they afford to individuals who wish to marry persons of the opposite sex, and do not satisfy the heightened scrutiny standard we adopted in SmithKline [Beecham Corp. v. Abbott Laboratories, Inc.].”
As a result of the ruling, the case is “REMANDED to the district court for the prompt issuance of an injunction permanently enjoining the state, its political subdivisions, and its officers, employees and agents, from enforcing any constitutional provision, statute, regulation or policy preventing otherwise qualified same-sex couples from marrying, or denying recognition of marriages celebrated in other jurisdictions which, if the spouses were not of the same sex, would be valid under the laws of the state,” the panel wrote.
The ruling shows Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Gov. Brian Sandoval were correct to end the state’s defense of the constitutional ban on gay marriage, enacted by voters in 2000 and 2002. And because the Coalition for the Preservation of Marriage, which argued to keep the ban in arguments before the 9th Circuit, doesn’t have standing to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, the case likely ends here.
Reactions to the news were swift.
“The ruling today confirmed my previous position that the state’s arguments against same sex marriage are no longer defensible in court. The SmithKline decision in February changed the legal standard which is why we originally withdrew our appeal. I respect the decision of the court,” Sandoval said, in a statement jointly released with Cortez Masto.
“We are encouraged by the decision of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. However, although the 9th Circuit has filed its decision in the case, it has not yet issued its mandate. The parties have 14 days to seek reconsideration or seek a stay to file an appeal with the United States Supreme Court. County clerks should work with their respective district attorneys on the appropriate course of action,” Cortez Masto said.
(Although the Nevada defendants can’t appeal, they could conceivably ask for a hearing before the entire court. But the ruling also invalidated Idaho’s anti-gay marriage laws, and that state does have standing to appeal.)
The Nevada Democratic Party took advantage of the ruling to take a swipe at Republican candidates for office.
“Today’s ruling is a long time coming and a victory for equality as same sex couples will finally have the freedom to marry the ones they love,” said party Chairwoman Roberta Lange. “It is not the role of the government to tell consenting adults who they can and cannot love. I’m proud that every Democrat in the Nevada legislature voted to repeal this discriminatory ban last session.
“Unfortunately, nearly every Republican in the legislature voted to uphold this discriminatory ban; including Mark Hutchison, Michael Roberson, and Barbara Cegavske. The Republican candidate for attorney general, Adam Laxalt, said he would have fought to uphold the ban on same sex marriage if he was attorney general. Republicans were wrong then, and their outdated views on marriage equality and equal rights are just as wrong today. I want to thank every Democratic member of the Nevada legislature for voting to remove this ban from our state’s constitution.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hailed the decision.
“This is a good day for Nevada as today’s decision puts us on the side of equality and the right side of history. Our state and our country are strengthened by our diversity,” Reid said. “No longer will gay and lesbian Nevadans be told that their committed relationships are less than those of straight couples. With the 9th Circuit’s decision, gay and lesbian Nevadans will soon be able to enjoy full recognition, respect and protection of their right to love. I want to commend the hard work of advocates at the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Freedom Nevada and throughout the country who were able to make this day a reality for thousands of gay and lesbian Nevadans.
“As we move forward in Nevada, let us also continue to work to ensure the same rights are extended in the states that still deny gay and lesbian couples this right. We have much work to do to achieve this goal.”
(Ironically, Reid got into a bit of trouble in his 2004 re-election, when his constituent letters made it appear he was trying to have it both ways on the issue.)
Said Rep. Steven Horsford: “Today is a victory for equality for all Nevadans. Same-sex couples will finally be able to marry in the Silver State. This decision, along with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to decline hearing similar appeals, reaffirms the belief of so many Americans that love is love. The modern civil rights movement for marriage equality is gaining momentum every day. Soon, Americans in all fifty states will be free to marry those they love.”
And Rep. Dina Titus: “The court has clearly articulated that all Nevadans, regardless of whom they love, shall be treated equally in the eyes of the law. Time and time again courts across the country have sided with equality over discrimination. I urge Nevada’s county clerks to move swiftly so same-sex couples who have waited to celebrate their commitment in front of their families and friends in their home state can do so without delay. Las Vegas has long been known as the Marriage Capital of the World. With today’s ruling, we can send a clear message that all couples are welcome in fabulous Las Vegas.
“Since last year’s Supreme Court decision I have been advocating for legislation to ensure that all legally married, same-sex veteran couples have equal access to the federal benefits they earned and deserve. While today’s ruling is an important step forward for LGBT equality in Nevada, we must recommit to ending the injustice that remains for thousands of military families who live in states that do not recognize their marriage. I remain committed to seeing this wrong righted.”
And state Sen. Justin Jones: “It’s a great day in Nevada!
“I am grateful to hear the Ninth Circuit Court’s unanimous and historic decision to strike down the marriage equality ban in Nevada. The desire for equal rights is fundamental to the American Dream of freedom and opportunity. The Court’s decision reverses an inequality that has long prevented loving, same-sex couples from enjoying the same rights as other married couples. This is a huge step in the right direction — but this fight is far from over.
“As a result of the Court’s ruling, my brother-in-law and all gay and lesbian Nevadans will finally have the same right my wife and I take for granted. I am proud of my record of support for the LGBT community and even more proud to have voted in support for marriage equality in 2013 – it is my hope that this ruling eventually leads to greater tolerance and ultimately to full LGBT equality.”
Activists also cheered the ruling.
“At the end of the day, it shouldn’t matter what state you call home,” said Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “All Americans deserve the right to marry the person they love. Today’s ruling in the 9th Circuit affirms that the U.S. Constitution doesn’t allow for states to pick and choose which of its citizens are entitled to certain rights, and which are not.”
Added Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry:
“Today’s decision from the 9th Circuit brings to 35 the number of freedom to marry states, and 64 percent of the American people now live in a state where gay people will soon share in the freedom to marry. We now have more states that have ended the exclusion of gay couples from marriage than had ended bans on interracial marriage when the Supreme Court brought the country to national resolution in Loving v. Virginia. We hope that the other federal appellate courts will move swiftly to end the disparity and unfair denial that too many loving and committed couples in the 15 remaining states endure.”
But not everyone was happy about the ruling. The group Nevada Families for Freedom called Tuesday a “dark day for children.”
“The overturning of Nevada’s constitutional amendment upholding traditional marriage between a man and a woman by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is a tragedy of epic proportions,” said Janine Hansen, state president of Nevada Families for Freedom. “This is a very dark day for our children and grandchildren who will live in a corrupt society which has rejected the importance of family values.
“In 2000 and 2002, Nevadans voted overwhelmingly by 70% to put marriage between a man and a woman in the Constitution. Now by judicial activism, the will of the people is overturned by unelected unaccountable federal judges. We are no longer a republic having lost our rights as ‘we the people’ to the dictatorial judiciary.
“Political correctness has now been deemed to be more important than the survival of the traditional family. Our nation is in trouble and just like Sodom and Gomorrah we will reap the whirlwind,” concluded Hansen.
In celebration of the ruling, a rally was planned for 5:30 p.m. today at the Gay and Lesbian Center of Las Vegas, 401 S. Maryland Parkway in Las Vegas. And Clark County spokesman Eric Pappa said in a news release that the county’s Marriage License Bureau would begin accepting same-sex couple’s applications on Wednesday. The bureau has already prepared gender-neutral application forms, licenses and certificates, he said.