(San Francisco, CA, October 7, 2014)—Today, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled 3-0 that Idaho’s and Nevada’s ban on the freedom to marry for same-sex couples violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.
Today’s decision, written by Judge Stephen Reinhardt, holds that “Idaho and Nevada’s marriage laws, by preventing same-sex couples from marrying and refusing to recognize same-sex marriages celebrated elsewhere, impose profound legal, financial, social and psychic harms on numerous citizens of those states.” The decision further states: “Classifying some families, and especially their children, as of lesser value should be repugnant to all those in this nation who profess to believe in ‘family values.’ In any event, Idaho and Nevada’s asserted preference for opposite-sex parents does not, under heightened scrutiny, come close to justifying unequal treatment on the basis of sexual orientation.” The Idaho case was brought in November 2013 by four same-sex couples: Sue Latta and Traci Ehlers, Lori and Sharene Watsen, Shelia Robertson and Andrea Altmayer, and Amber Beierle and Rachael Robertson. The couples are represented by Idaho attorneys Deborah Ferguson and Craig Durham of Ferguson Durham LLP and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR). On September 8th, Ferguson argued before Ninth Circuit Judges Stephen Reinhardt, Marsha S. Berzon, and Ronald M. Gould that Idaho’s laws that ban marriage equality and prohibit the state from respecting the marriages of same-sex couples who married in other states violate the U.S. Constitution.
The Idaho case was consolidated for purposes of the decision with Sevcik v. Sandoval, a case challenging Nevada’s marriage ban brought by same-sex couples represented by Lambda Legal. The decision makes the Ninth Circuit the fourth consecutive circuit court to rule in favor of the freedom to marry since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013. Since then, the Tenth, Fourth, and Seventh Circuits have ruled that state laws barring same-sex couples from marrying are unconstitutional, and the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed those decisions to stand. Said attorney Deborah Ferguson: “The Court’s ruling is a victory not only for the courageous couples who brought this case, but for our entire state and every state in the Ninth Circuit. The decision affirms the fundamental principles of equality and fairness for gay and lesbian couples. As the Court recognized, these families are part of Idaho’s community, and our Constitution requires that they be given the same legal protections and respect as other families.”
Added Lori Watsen: “It means so much for the courts to recognize our family and say that we must be treated equally. Our son will be able to grow up in a world where the state treats his family the same as other families. Today’s ruling means that we can finally have the same legal protections as other married couples and the security of knowing that our family is legally secure.”
Said NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter: “Over the past year, court after court—now including federal appellate courts in every region of the country—have recognized that the Constitution protects the equal dignity and full citizenship of same-sex couples. Today’s decision reaffirms that fundamental principle for residents of much of the Western U.S., which very soon will bring the total number of states that must respect same-sex couples’ freedom to marry to 35.”