It has been a big week for advocates of same-sex marriage as court decisions and a message from the attorney general have changed how many states have legal gay marriage. There are now 31 states with legal gay marriage, but with all the decisions that have been made, it can be hard to keep track of which ones have been affected. While the ins and outs of the particular legal rulings may be difficult to follow, the effect remains the same and more people than ever are enjoying marriage equality. Nevertheless, a short summary of the decisions and happenings in the state can be helpful in understanding the outcome of this week’s changes.
The Attorney General’s Recognition
A Supreme Court decision has allowed Attorney General Eric Holder to announce that the federal government will recognize gay marriages in seven new states. This is not a legal change in those states, but it is a move by the federal government that could help same-sex couples receive benefits from the federal government. Since the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) was struck down last year, same-sex couples have been entitled to federal benefits. But what really spurred Holder’s announcement was the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear any of the seven cases pending this week. That decision has had wide-ranging effects on the fight for marriage equality in the United States.
That decision on the part of the Supreme Court effectively legalized same-sex marriage in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. These states had cases challenging the legalizing of same-sex marriage in those states. By declining to hear those cases, the previous rulings stood firm and remained legal. It was not the only court to have an effect on the course of events, however. The 9th Circuit Court struck down bans in Idaho and Nevada. The three judge panel had previously been critical of opposition arguments, signalling its decision to strike down the bans this week. That decision, however, would have an effect on the marriage ban in Alaska, Arizona and Montana, which were then problematic to defend.
Alaska and Arizona
That effect was felt in Alaska and Arizona, which both had their bans struck down this week. The Supreme Court refused to delay enforcement of same-sex marriages in Alaska, meaning it immediately went into effect. In Arizona, United states District Judge John Sedwick ruled against the state’s marriage ban, referring to the decision by the 9th Circuit Court in his ruling. He said that “a stay of this decision to allow defendants to appeal is not warranted” since any appeal to the circuit court would fail, based on their rulings for Idaho and Nevada. Because the (th Circuit Court would be the next step for the case, there was simply no point in allowing it to drag on when the outcome was effectively already known.
In Wyoming, which is a 10th Circuit Court state, a judge also struck down a marriage ban. District Judge Scott Skavdahl could not uphold the ban since marriage equality is already the law in the 10th Circuit. His ruling, however, was not without a tinge of regret that it had fallen to the court to decide. In his ruling he stated, “The preferred forum for addressing the issues presented by Plaintiffs in this case is the arena of public debate and legislative action.” In the absence of opportunity to vote and enshrine same-sex marriage into law through legislative channels, however, Judge Skavdahl ruled in favor of marriage equality, thereby adding to the tally of states involved in same-sex marriage’s big week.
A federal judge legalized same-sex marriage for North Carolina, which started the state issuing marriage licenses immediately. The state’s Republican leaders do plan to appeal the ruling, but that is no surprise. The most interesting news out of North Carolina was the resignation of a state magistrate who refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses because it violated his religious beliefs. Since it was determined that to not issue such a license would violate his duty as magistrate, he resigned rather than violate his strongly held beliefs. Judge Max Cogburn, Jr., an Obama appointee, made his ruling by saying that “the issue before the court is neither a political issue nor a moral issue. It is a legal issue.” The principled magistrate obviously disagreed with that and decided to follow his personal morality rather than enforce the law.
On Friday ABC News and the Washington Post released a poll gauging the public opinion on the issue of same-sex marriage. They found that 56 percent of the American people agreed with the decisions by the court and supported same-sex marriage. Only 38 percent opposed it. While the GOP has increased its opposition to marriage equality, the American voters have shifted towards greater approval. Notwithstanding the North Carolina officials resignation, public opinion supports the developments of same-sex marriage’s big week and the move towards full marriage equality for every state in the country.
Opinion By Lydia Bradbury