2014-OCT-01: Status of same-sex marriage (SSM) in the U.S. at the beginning of October:
There was a seismic shift in this topic in early October. This is a good time to assess its status:
Same-sex couples can marry in about 13 countries countries around the world. This includes almost all of the world's large predominately English-speaking nations. In almost all countries, the definition of marriage is set by the central government. Thus, one court ruling or piece of legislation can make marriage available to same-sex couples across an entire country. Canada is one example; same-sex couples were able to marry everywhere in the country, starting in 2005-JUL because of a law passed by its Parliament. Exceptions are the United States and Mexico, where eligibility to marry is determined by the individual states. Couples in the U.S. have needed to initiate dozens of separate lawsuits to achieve marriage equality in the District of Columbia and in each state.
In the United States, marriage licenses were routinely available and marriages routinely registered for same-sex couples in 19 states. About 44% of Americans live in a political jurisdiction that has attained marriage equality. The states are: CA, CT, DE, HI, IA, IL, MA, MD, ME, MN, NJ, NM, NY, NH, RI, OR, PA, VT, & WA. With the District of Columbia, this makes a total of 20 political jurisdictions in the U.S. which have attained marriage equality by OCT-01.
Bans of marriage by same-sex couples remain in place as a result of state constitutional amendments in 28 states and by state statutes in 3 states [IN, WV, WY]. The bans in these 31 states are currently being challenged in over 70 lawsuits in federal, state, and county courts. Every state with a ban has at least one active lawsuit seeking to have the ban declared unconstitutional.
Between 2013-JUN-26 and 2014-OCT-01, there have been almost 40 rulings by county courts, state courts, federal courts, and three federal Circuit Courts of Appeals on the topic of marriage by same-sex couples. All but one decision have upheld the right of same-sex couples to marry in one state and/or required that state to recognize as legal same-sex marriages previously solemnized out-of-state. Almost all have been stayed pending appeal. See the current status.
Some of the more interesting developments between 2013-NOV and 2014-SEP have been:
The Illinois legislature passed a same-sex marriage bill. It was signed into law on 2013-NOV-20 and is now effective.
The New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously ruled on 2013-DEC-19 that the state marriage laws were unconstitutional and that SSM was legal there.
A federal District Court in Pennsylvania declared that state's marriage ban is unconstitutional. Governor Tom Corbett (R), recognizing that an appeal stood little or no chance of upholding the ban, decided to not waste taxpayer money by appealing the case to the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. Same-sex couples have since been able to be married in the state and to have their out-of-state marriages in Pennsylvania.
About 45% of the American population now lives in either the District of Columbia or in a state where same-sex couples can marry. Most of the population of North America -- here defined as the U.S. + Canada -- live in a district, state province, or territory where SSM is legal. Most of the political jurisdictions in North America have legalized SSM if one counts the Canadian provinces and territories, 19 U.S. States and the District of Columbia.
Four rulings by 3-judge panels at a total of three U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals have dealt with same-sex marriage. Three of these decisions were by a 2:1 vote; the remaining one was unanimous; all four were in favor of marriage equality:
On 2014-JUN-25, a panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision upholding an Utah District Court decision legalizing SSM. On AUG-05, the state appealed that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. More details.
On 2014-JUL-25, a panel of the same 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision upholding an Oklahoma District Court decision legalizing SSM. On AUG-06, the state appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. 1More details.
On 2014-JUL-28, a panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision upholding a Virginia District Court decision legalizing SSM. On AUG-06, the state appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. More details.
On 2014-SEP-04, a panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of marriage equality in two states: Indiana & Wisconsin.
The four rulings involving marriage equality in 5 states have all been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
2014-SEP-04: Attorney Generals from 17 states (AL, AK, AZ, CO, GA, ID, LA, SM, MO, MT, NE, ND, OK, SC, SD, WV, WI) filed a amicus curiae ("friend of the court") brief with the U.S. Supreme Court. They urged the high court to accept one or more of the appeals before it and rule whether same-sex couple have a right to marry anywhere in the U.S. More details
2014-SEP-05: Five conservative Christian groups opposed to marriage equality filed two requests with the U.S. Supreme Court: One request was by four of the largest conservative Christian denominations in the country: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Ethics & Religious Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. They urged the court to resolve the marriage equality debate as soon as possible. The second request was by TheChurch of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often referred to as the LDS or Mormon church. They filed a similar but separate brief. More details
The Supreme Court made their decisions about the appeals on OCT-06, but not exactly in the way that the briefs requested. They set in motion a process that recognized same-sex marriage in 11 states, but left marriage equality in 20 other states unresolved.
Developments during the first seven days of 2014-OCT:
What a month!
2014-OCT-03: Missouri: Ruling in state court partly overturned same-sex marriage ban: Circuit Judge J. Dale Youngs of Jackson County Circuit Court, issued a ruling in the Barrier v. Vasterling lawsuit. He determined that legal out-of-state marriages by same-sex couples must be recognized as valid by the state of Missouri. On OCT-06, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster (D) announced the state would not appeal the decision. He issued a news release, saying:
"The circuit court's judgment in Barrier v. Vasterling held that Missouri must recognize marriages lawfully entered into in other states. We will not appeal that judgment. Our national government is founded upon principles of federalism – a system that empowers Missouri to set policy for itself, but also obligates us to honor contracts entered into in other states. More details.
2014-OCT-06: The U.S. Supreme Court decided to take no action on appeals from four same-sex marriage lawsuits as originating from three Circuit Courts of Appeals. These decisions affected five states directly and six states indirectly. Same-sex marriages are expected to shortly become available for these 11 states. This involves an additional 22% of the number of states and an additional 20% of the U.S. population that would attain marriage equality during the following weeks. That represents a massive social change in the direction of increased personal freedom. In terms of impact, it is almost in the same class as:
The previous redefinition of marriage by the U.S. Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia which legalized interracial marriage across the entire U.S. in 1967.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education which started the process of desegregating public schools in 1954 -- a process that remains unfinished today.
The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which guaranteed women the right to vote in 1920.
The legal terms "certiorari" and "cert"refers to a higher court granting an appeal from a lower court. On OCT-06, the high court decided to not grant certiorari to appeals from the 4th, 7th, and 10th U.S. Circuit Courts concerning five state's bans on marriage by same-sex couples. The court offered no explanation for their decision. However, when they have granted certiorari in the past, it often involved topics where multiple Courts of Appeal had issued conflicting rulings. The Supreme Court is then willing to step in to resolve the conflict. As long as Circuit Courts continue to be unanimous in their decisions on a specific topic, the justices of the Supreme Court often decide to let the matter be resolved by those lower courts and to not become involved themselves. 2
The high court's decision involves
five states directly: Virginia, Indiana, Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Utah. In these states, the decisions by their U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals are now final. Same-sex couples in four of the five states started to purchase marriage licenses on the same day as the Supreme Court's denial of certiorari. Indiana followed suit on OCT-07. Unlike the events that followed previous decisions by some lower courts, there was no rush by same-sex couples to obtain their licenses and marry immediately while they still could. This ruling by the high court is secure for the foreseeable future in these five states. There was no fear that their access to marriage would be suddenly snatched away by a court-imposed stay. Couples seem to be leisurely preparing conventional weddings for their future.
This topic continues in the next essay with
information about events later in 2014-OCT.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Jay Dillon, "Oklahoma's gay marriage ban appealed to U.S. Supreme Court," FOX 25, 2014-AUG-06, at: http://www.okcfox.com/
Richard Wolf, "Supreme Court paves way for gay marriage in Indiana," IndyStar, 2014-OCT-06, at: http://www.indystar.com/