National Center for Lesbian Rights

Press

(Sioux Falls, SD, Nov. 14, 2014)—South Dakota’s marriage equality lawsuit is moving forward after United States Judge Karen Schreier rejected the State’s motion for the case to be dismissed on Friday.

The Court heard arguments in Rosenbrahn v. Daugaard on October 17 in Sioux Falls. The Attorney General’s Office argued that a 2006 8th Circuit Court of Appeals case required dismissal. Plaintiffs’ attorney Joshua Newville argued that case isn’t on point and that the controlling decision is United States v. Windsor, the 2013 Supreme Court case that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

In a 28-page opinion, issued Friday afternoon,Judge Schreier agreed with the plaintiffs, writing, “Given the subsequent developments recognized almost uniformly by federal courts following the Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor, Baker is no longer binding authority. Although Bruning explained that sexual orientation is not a suspect class, it did not address whether marriage is a fundamental right. Thus, those cases do not foreclose relief on plaintiffs’ due process and equal protection claims.”

The Court will now consider the legitimacy of the marriage bans. Judge Schreier ordered state officials to respond to the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment within ten days. The State must explain why its refusal to wed same-sex couples and its refusal to recognize out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples do not violate U.S. Constitution guarantees of due process, equal protection, and the right to travel.

“Every reason the State offers to support these discriminatory laws has already been wholly rejected by the vast majority of courts to consider this issue,” said Newville. “The Supreme Court’s decision to let stand four recent appellate rulings striking down similar marriage bans also bolsters our case. The days of South Dakota proudly discriminating against these families are numbered,” he added.

The plaintiffs filed their motion for summary judgment in early July. Debra Voigt, one of the lawyers for the couples, said, “We are all very happy this case is moving forward and are encouraged by the Court’s ruling today. We are optimistic that this is one step closer to marriage equality here in South Dakota.”

The six plaintiff families are from across the state and include veterans, nurses, a stay-at-home mom, a truck driver, a couple who’s been together 30 years, and couples with children and grandchildren. “The law requires South Dakota to treat these families equally and with same dignity and respect it gives families with different-sex couples,” said Newville.

Plaintiff Clay Schweitzer of Rapid City said, “My husband Jeremy [Coller] and I were both born and raised in South Dakota. We love it here. South Dakota is where we met, were we have built our lives together, and where Jeremy accepted my proposal in the Black Hills. We look forward to the day when South Dakota treats our family equally to all others.”

While the Court dismissed Plaintiffs’ right-to-travel claim, Newville explained: “We believe that South Dakota’s discriminatory marriage scheme violates the law in a number of ways, including an unconstitutional infringement on the right to relocate within the United States. While the Court disagreed with our reasoning on that claim, the Judge did agree with the over 50 other courts that ultimately ruled in favor of marriage equality in the last 15 months that these couples’ have presented valid equal protection and due process claims.”

The couples are represented by four attorneys:

  • Lead counsel Joshua Newville of the Minneapolis firm Madia Law LLC. Newville is the civil rights attorney who filed the lawsuit on May 22, 2014. He also represents seven families in a similar challenge to North Dakota’s marriage equality bans, which he filed on June 6, 2014.
  • South Dakota attorney Debra Voigt of Burd and Voigt Law Offices in Sioux Falls. Voigt is an active member of her community and has practiced family law in South Dakota for nearly 20 years.
  • National Center for Lesbian Rights attorneys Shannon Minter and Christopher Stoll. NCLR, a LGBTQ advocacy organization based in San Francisco, has been instrumental in the national fight for marriage equality, including the 10th Circuit Idaho case that was the first in the country after Windsor to have marriage equality upheld by a federal appellate court. Minter and Stoll are also working with Newville on the North Dakota case.

Learn more about the case.

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