Nevada attorney general seeks to stop defending state’s marriage ban

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.

Lambda Legal, who filed the Sevcik v. Sandoval case in April 2012 and are now appealing a November 2012 ruling against the plaintiffs, commented on the move yesterday. Lambda explained:

In the wake of the Ninth Circuit ruling in SmithKline Beecham v. Abbott Laboratories, the Governor has recognized that the writing is on the wall, and that arguments seeking to perpetuate discrimination are becoming extremely difficult to justify. Denying marriage to same-sex couples serves no legitimate state interest and is intended solely to perpetuate discrimination. As the Governor himself recognized, the heightened scrutiny standard that the Ninth Circuit’s SmithKline ruling now requires be applied to discriminatory classifications based on sexual orientation renders arguments supporting the marriage ban no longer tenable, and the Governor frankly made the only call he could.

Freedom to Marry founder and president Evan Wolfson explained more:

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.

A spokesperson for Governor Sandoval confirmed AG Cortez Masto's position to Buzzfeed, explaining, "Based upon the advice of the Attorney General’s office and their interpretation of relevant case law, it has become clear that this case is no longer defensible in court."

The case will now continue, with the so-called Coalition for the Protection of Marriage (the anti-marriage organization that had funded the constitutional amendment restricting marriage to different-sex couples) defending the ban.

Learn more about Sevcik v. Sandoval HERE.