Litigation Round-Up: Marriage in the courts in KY, TX, LA, OH, MO & NV
February 12, 2014
In the past week, the flurry of activity around marriage litigation hasn't slowed down: Two new lawsuits were filed today, and in Texas and Nevada, big developments could translate to big wins. In 24 states across the country, 45 lawsuits are working their way through the legal system, with couples standing up to urge their state to find that anti-marriage laws and constitutional amendments limiting the freedom to marry violate the United States Constitution. Check out all of the cases HERE, and see updates from this week below:
Today, February 12, 2014, a federal judge ruled that Kentucky must respect the marriages of same-sex couples legally performed in other states. He said, "It is clear that Kentucky’s laws treat gay and lesbian persons differently in a way that demeans them."
The judge, U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II, was nominated to the seat by President George H. W. Bush, on Senator Mitch McConnell's recommendation, both high-profile Republicans. He is the fourth federal judge in the past few months to declare that anti-marriage laws are unconstitutional, following rulings from Judge Shelby in Utah, Judge Kern in Oklahoma, and Judge Black in Ohio.
Today in Texas, a federal judge heard oral arguments in DeLeon v. Perry, a federal case filed by two same-sex couples - one who married in Massachusetts and are seeking respect for their marriage, and one seeking the freedom to marry. The judge did not rule immediately and gave no indication when he would rule.
In advance of the hearing today, San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro and Freedom to Marry founder and president Evan Wolfson published an op-ed in a San Antonio newspaper calling for the freedom to marry across the state of Texas. "Like the majority of Americans nationwide, Texans are coming to the conclusion that excluding same-sex couples from marriage is wrong," they wrote. "After all, we believe in individual responsibility and the pursuit of happiness, and know that freedom means freedom for all."
Two of the plaintiffs - Cleopatra DeLeon (married to Nicole Dimetman) and Vic Holmes (partnered with Mark Phariss) served in the U.S. Military, with DeLeon serving in the Air Force and the Texas National Guard and Holmes stationed at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, followed by assignments in Wichita Falls. Both couples shared their stories in a wonderful piece in the San Antonio Currant earlier this year. Read their story HERE.
Learn more about the case, DeLeon v. Perry, HERE.
On February 12, the Forum for Equality Louisiana announced that they have filed a lawsuit in state court on behalf of four married couples in Louisiana challenging state laws that deny legal respect to legally married same-sex couples.
Several of the couples - including Andrew & Nick and Jackie & Lauren - are raising young children in New Orleans, and their lawsuit reflects that having their marriages disrespected in Louisiana poses potential legal challenges - and challenges they have already been burdened with - for their family.
"We have full federal rights but no state rights,” Lauren Brettner said, discussing why she and Jackie were joining the lawsuit. “We face problems repeatedly, just because the State of Louisiana refuses to name two parents on our daughter’s birth certificate ... Louisiana unreasonably burdens us with paying for what legal documents we can execute, but those documents still leave an uncertainty that bothers us as parents."
Learn more about the case, Forum for Equality Louisiana et. al. v. Bardwell HERE.
On February 10, private lawyers filed a lawsuit (Henry v. Wymyslo) behalf of four same-sex couples who adopted children in Ohio. The lawsuit challenges an Ohio law that disallows same-sex couples from having both parents’ names appear on their children’s birth certificates. Under current law, only one parent in a same-sex relationship is permitted to be listed on a birth certificate for a child in Ohio.
Cincinnati attorney Alphonse Gerhardstein explained: "They seek to be treated the same as opposite-sex couples in their situations...All of the (couples) seek an order that will establish for children and parents in families established through same-sex marriages the same status and dignity enjoyed by children and parents in families established through opposite-sex marriages."
The case is similar to a different lawsuit where a federal judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, Obergefell v. Wymyslo, in December. In that case, Judge Timothy Black ruled that Ohio laws banning same-sex couples from marrying are unconstitutional for the purpose of listing same-sex spouses on death certificates. The ruling applies only to the married same-sex couples in Ohio who want to be listed on the death certificates of their spouses, and is currently under appeal in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Learn more about the case, Henry v. Wymyslo, HERE.
On February 12, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in state court on behalf of eight same-sex couples challenging state laws that deny legal respect to legally married same-sex couples. The eight couples have all married in states where same-sex couples have the freedom to marry.
The lawsuit includes couples from Kansas City, St. Louis, mid-Missouri, and Springfield, including Alan Ziegler and LeRoy Fitzwater, who were married in California in 2008 and moved to St. Louis in November.
"We moved from California to Missouri knowing that essentially we'd be divorced when we got here," Ziegler said today. "When our parents travel from state to state, no one questions their marriage. We want our marriage protected like our parents' marriage."
Jeffrey Mittman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Missouri, commented on the case today. He said: "Through recognition of marriage, Missouri supports a couple’s decision to establish a family, support one another and any children of the marriage. Because of the many benefits of marriage, Missouri has traditionally recognized lawful marriages performed in other states. We know that the people of Missouri are fair-minded and did not intend to harm these families, their children, and the other families like them throughout Missouri. But our current laws DO harm them."
Learn more about the case, Barrier v. Vasterling, HERE.
On Monday, February 10, Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto filed a motion in the lawsuit Sevcik v. Sandoval requesting the ability to withdraw her brief that argued in defense of Nevada's ban on same-sex couples from marrying. She explained, "After thorough analysis and review, the arguments grounded upon equal protection and due process are no longer sustainable."
The decision was sparked by a January 21 ruling in a separate case (SmithKline Beecham v. Abbott Laboratories) in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals finding that gay people could not be excluded from juries because of their sexuality. Essentially, the case found that sexual orientation is a class protected by heightened scrutiny - and legal prognosticators had explained immediately following the ruling that it could dramatically alter the Sevcik v. Sandoval case.
Freedom to Marry founder and president Evan Wolfson explained, "The Attorney General's determination, supported by the Governor, that the state cannot in good conscience or fidelity to the law defend the constitutionally indefensible shows a commitment to equal protection under the law for all - not just some - Nevadans. As the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed last year, there is simply no legitimate justification for denying loving couples the freedom to marry. Nevada's principled, bipartisan position adds to the momentum making clear that Americans in every corner of the country are ready for the freedom to marry."
Learn more about the case, Sevcik v. Sandoval, HERE.