9th Circuit Court of Appeals rules in favor of the freedom to marry

UPDATED 10/8: Around 8:00pm ET, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued its mandate in the ruling in favor of the freedom to marry, meaning that the order that Nevada and Idaho must allow same-sex couples to marry is currently in effect. Nevada officials responded Tuesday evening saying that they will take no further action in the case, and that same-sex couples will be able to marry on Wednesday. Idaho officials have said they will review the 9th Circuit ruling, but legally, the mandate requires Idaho to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. 

Today, October 7, the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled in favor of the freedom to marry in Nevada and Idaho. Just one month ago, the Court heard oral arguments for cases involving the freedom to marry in Idaho, Nevada, and Hawaii on September 8.

The ruling also paves the way for the freedom to marry in Montana, Arizona and Alaska, which also fall under the jurisdiction of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. 

It is the fourth federal appellate court to rule in favor of the freedom to marry this year, and the second to do so unanimously. 

The unanimous opinion, authored by Judge Stephen Reinhardt and joined by Judge Marsha Berzon and Judge Ronald Gould, reads:

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.

Read the full ruling here.

The cases were in Idaho's Latta v. Otter, filed by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, in which a federal judge ruled in favor of marriage for same-sex couples, striking down anti-marriage laws in the state. In the Nevada case, Sevcik v. Sandoval, filed by Lambda Legal, a district court ruled against the freedom to marry in 2012. Lambda Legal appealed the ruling. 

In the Idaho case, defendants have the chance to ask the 9th Circuit for a rehearing or an en banc hearing, or they could, in theory, petition for review from the United States Supreme Court (although yesterday, note, that the Supreme Court denied review in five marriage cases and opened the door to the freedom to marry in 11 more states). In the Nevada case, where the district court ruled against the freedom to marry, the case has been sent back to the lower court for the prompt issuance of an injunction.

Earlier this year, the Nevada Governor and Attorney General announced that, in light of a ruling requiring heightened scrutiny in cases involving sexual orientation at the 9th Circuit, they would drop their defense of the Nevada marriage ban. So it is unlikely that they appeal, and marriages could begin in Nevada in a matter of weeks.  

Freedom to Marry founder and president Evan Wolfson said today:

Today's decision from the Ninth Circuit brings to 35 the number of freedom to marry states, and 64% 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.

Read stories of nearly a dozen same-sex couples in Idaho who are celebrating today's huge ruling, and then check out the work of Freedom Nevada - the campaign for which we're proud to serve as leading and founding members - here

This post will be updated with more information as the ruling is analyzed.