Marriage Litigation

At Freedom to Marry, our strategy to win marriage nationwide has always been to create a climate of urgency that allows us to make the case to the United States Supreme Court that same-sex couples across the country need to be able to share in the freedom to marry. We have worked to create that climate - and will continue working - through the Roadmap to Victory, which calls for advancing work on three tracks: Winning more states where same-sex couples can marry, growing and diversifying the majority of Americans who support marriage, and ending federal marriage discrimination. 

Building this critical mass of states can be achieved using a number of methods, including legislation, ballot initiatives, and strong, smart litigation. 

Several marriage-related legal cases are currently making their way through the state and federal court systems. We don't know which of these cases - if any - will be the case through which the Supreme Court will bring national resolution, but we know that by following the Roadmap to Victory, we can continue showing these state and federal judges - and ultimately, the Supreme Court justices - that America is ready for the freedom to marry. 

Litigation is currently pending in the following states. See details on each of the cases below:

Arkansas

Jernigan v. Crane


  • On July 15, 2013, Little Rock lawyer Jack Wagoner filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of three same-sex couples in Arkansas seeking the freedom to marry in their state.
  • The plaintiffs are Becca and Tara Austin and Rita and Pam Jernigan, who argue in the case that they want to marry in their home state of Arkansas. Randy and Garry Eddy-McCain married in New York, but they are treated as unmarried by Arkansas.


Wright v. Arkansas


  • On July 2, 2013:  Attorney Cheryl Maples files a lawsuit in state court on behalf of Kendall and Julia Wright, as well as ten other Arkansas couples. The case argues that laws restricting the freedom to marry to different-sex couples in Arkansas are unconstitutional.
  • Lead plaintiffs Kendall and Julia Wright married this year in Iowa. Several of the other couples are already legally married, while the rest have been denied requests for marriage licenses in Arkansas and wish to marry in their home state.
Hawaii

Jackson v. Abercrombie


  • On December 7, 2011, Natasha Jackson and Janin Kleid filed a lawsuit against Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Loretta J. Fuddy, Director of Health for the State of Hawaii, after being denied a marriage license.
  • In February 2012, Gov. Abercrombie said he will not defend the state's discriminatory marriage law. He said, "My obligation as Governor is to support equality under law. This is inequality, and I will not defend it.
  • On August 8, 2012, Judge Kay ruled against Jackson and Kleid, upholding the state's ban on marriage for same-sex couples in Hawaii.
  • Now, the plaintiffs may now choose to appeal the ruling. Gov. Abercrombie has said he would support them in their efforts to appeal the decision.
Illinois

Darby v. Orr


  • On March 30, 2012, Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union filed two separate lawsuits against Cook County Clerk David Orr on behalf of 25 same-sex couples seeking the freedom to marry. The lawsuit directly challenged the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, which prohibits same-sex couples from marrying and disallows Illinois from respecting out-of-state marriages between same-sex couples. Couples in Illinois can join together in a lesser form of family status, civil union, which does not allow them to access any of the federal protections of marriage.
  • On June 2, 2012, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan requested to intervene in the case to advocate in favor of the freedom to marry. The defendant, David Orr, also applauded the lawsuits and spoke out in favor of marriage. The two separate cases were shortly after combined into one case.
  • On July 10, 2013, in the weeks following the landmark ruling striking down the central part of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Illinois filed a motion for summary judgment in the lawsuit, asking for a swift end to the IL laws prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying - which now prohibits same-sex couples from accessing federal protections of marriage. 
Kentucky

Bourke & Deleon v. Beshear


  • On July 26, 2013, a same-sex couple in Louisville, KY filed a federal lawsuit arguing that Kentucky's anti-marriage laws violate the due process and equal protection provisions of the U.S. Constitution.
  • The couple, Gregory Bourke and Michael Deleon, had been together for 31 years and married in Canada in 2004, but because of Kentucky's anti-marriage laws, they are treated as an unmarried couple. The case seeks a permanent injunction requiring Kentucky to respect marriages between same-sex couples performed outside of the state.
Louisiana

Bonilla v. Hurst


  • On May 4, 2009, a same-sex couple, Kristoffer J. Bonilla and John Thomas Wray, filed a federal lawsuit against officials in Louisiana, asserting that Louisiana's laws restricting the freedom to marry to different-sex couples are unconstitutional.
Michigan

DeBoer v. Snyder


  • On January 23, 2012, April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse filed a federal lawsuit against Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette, seeking the freedom to jointly adopt their three children, who they raised as foster moms. Michigan law currently prevents same-sex couples from jointly adopting children.
  • On August 29, 2012, the judge assigned to the case, U.S. District Court Judge Bernard Friedman, explained that the constitutional amendment prohibiting the couple from adopting their children is the same amendment that prohibits the couple - and all same-sex couples in Michigan - from marrying.
  • The lawsuit has expanded to challenge the anti-marriage law in the state, and on July 1, 2013, Judge Friedman denied the defendants' motion to dismiss the lawsuit's challenge of the state constitutional amendment restricting marriage to different-sex couples. 
Missouri

Glossip v. MODOT & Highway Patrol Employees' Retirement System


  • On December 2, 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, and the ACLU of Kansas & Western Missouri filed a lawsuit in state court on behalf of Kelly Glossip, whose partner, Dennis Engelhard, was killed in his line of duty as a state trooper. Although Missouri extends survivor benefits to the spouses of state troopers killed in the line of duty, Missouri law excludes same-sex spouses. The lawsuit seeks the survivor benefits provided to opposite-sex spouses.
  • Dennis and Kelly had been together for 15 years. "They were a family in every sense of the word," John Knight, the ACLU's staff attorney said in 2010. "They owned a home together, shared cars and bank accounts, and Dennis even helped Kelly care for his child from a former marriage. They vowed to take care of each other in good times and in bad. As a matter of basic fairness, Kelly should be entitled to the same security as other bereaved partners of troopers killed in the line of duty.
  • On February 27, 2013, the Missouri Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case, and on July 23, 2013, in the weeks following the landmark ruling striking down the central part of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, the Missouri Supreme Court takes a second look at Glossip's case, asking attorneys involved in the case to submit additional written arguments to reflect the DOMA ruling.
Nevada

Sevcik v. Sandoval


  • On April 10, 2012, the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund filed a federal lawsuit seeking the freedom to marry for eight same-sex couples in Nevada who had been denied marriage licenses.
  • On August 10, 2012, a federal judge from the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada agreed to hear the case, permitting the so-called Coalition for the Protection of Marriage to intervene as a defendant.
  • On November 29, 2012, Judge Robert C. Jones rules against Nevada's same-sex couples, saying that the state's current laws do not violate the Equal Protection Clause.
  • On December 3, 2012, Lambda Legal appealed the case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
New Jersey

Garden State Equality et al. v. Dow et al.


  • In June 2011, Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit in the New Jersey Superior Court.
  • In November 2011, Lambda Legal defeated defendants' attempts to have the case dismissed, and the judge ruled that the plaintiffs may proceed with the case.
  • In February 2012, the court reinstated the claim of federal equal protection.
  • In July 2013, in the days following the landmark Supreme Court ruling striking down the central part of DOMA, Lambda Legal filed a motion for summary judgment in New Jersey Superior Court urging the Court to extend the freedom to marry to same-sex couples throughout the Garden State.
New Mexico

Griego v. Oliver


  • On March 21, 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of New Mexico, the National Center for Lesbian Rights , the Albuquerque law firm Sutin, Thayer & Browne, APC, and local cooperating attorneys Maureen Sanders, Lynn Perls, and Kate Girard filed a lawsuit in state court on behalf of two same-sex couples seeking the freedom to marry in New Mexico.
  • On July 3, 2013, the plaintiffs filed a writ of mandamus with the New Mexico State Supreme Court seeking a ruling on whether same-sex couples can marry in the state of New Mexico. The writ also asks the Court to clarify that New Mexico respects out-of-state marriages between same-sex couples.
North Carolina

Fisher-Borne v. Smith


  • On June 13, 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit on behalf of six same-sex couples seeking the right to obtain second parent adoptions.
  • On July 9, 2013, the ACLU and ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation submitted a request asking NC Attorney General Roy Cooper to agree to allow an additional challenge to the state's restriction of marriage to different-sex couples.
  • On July 22, 2013, the motion is approved.
Ohio

Obergefell v. Kasich


  • On July 19, 2013, a same-sex couple in Ohio, John Arthur and James Obergefell, filed a federal lawsuit seeking legal respect for their marriage, which they celebrated in Maryland on July 11 after 20 years together, in their home state of Ohio.
  • On July 22, 2013, Judge Timothy Black ordered state officials in Ohio to respect the couple's marriage on the death certificate of Arthur, who was dying of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The judge granted the couple's motion for a temporary restraining order.
  • On July 22, 2013: Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine defended Ohio's laws, and lawyers for the vital statistics registrar of Cincinatti explain that they will not defend the laws - but that they must follow Ohio law until it is changed or overturned.
  • Freedom to Marry founder and president Evan Wolfson commented on the ruling, saying, "With John Arthur on his deathbed, he and his beloved, James Obergefell, literally had to charter a plane and fly to get married elsewhere on American soil because their home state of Ohio cruelly denies them the freedom to marry at home. No couple should be forced to leave home to make legal their love and commitment to each other, and as a federal court this week rightly affirmed, no couple should suffer the indignity of returning home only to be told, ‘Your marriage doesn’t matter here. … Every day of denial is a day of massive unfairness and cruel hardship, and we know that Ohio – and America – can and must do better."
Oklahoma

Bishop v. United States


  • On November 3, 2004, two same-sex couples from Tulsa filed a federal lawsuit (initially, as Bishop v. Oklahoma) seeking an injunction against the United States for enforcing the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and against Oklahoma for enforcing its laws restricting the freedom to marry to different-sex couples.
  • On January 4, 2013, the anti-marriage Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG), which had previously stepped in to defend the law, filed a "Notice of Legal Developments" in the case to urge the court to wait until the Supreme Court rule in Windsor v. United States and Hollingsworth v. Perry. The case was stayed until after a ruling is decided in Windsor.
  • On July 14, 2013, in the weeks following the landmark ruling striking down the central part of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, the attorney for the couples requests that the judge assigned to the case, U.S. District Judge Terence Kern, issue a ruling in Bishop v. United States.
Pennsylvania

Whitewood v. Corbett


  • On July 9, 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and volunteer counsel from the law firm of Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of 23 Pennsylvania residents seeking the freedom to marry in the state.
  • On July 11, 2013, the Pennsylvania Attorney General, Kathleen Kane, announces that she will not defend Pennsylvania's state statute banning the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. Governor Tom Corbett, the other defendant listed on the case, says he will defend the statute.
Utah

Kitchen v. Herbert


  • On March 23, 2013, three same-sex couples in Utah filed a federal lawsuit challenging laws in Utah that restrict the freedom to marry to different-sex couples.
  • The plaintiffs in the case are Kate Call & Karen Archer, who married in Iowa in 2011; Derek L. Kitchen & Moudi D. Sbeity; and Laurie Wood & Kody Partridge. The defendants include Utah Gov. Herbert and the state Attorney General.
  • On June 28, 2013, in the days following the landmark ruling striking down the central part of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, the plaintiffs hosted a press conference where they agree to give the Utah Attorney General, a named defendant in the case, until 45 days after the Supreme Court ruling to file a response to the lawsuit.
Virginia

Harris v. McDonnell


  • On August 1, 2013, Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia filed a federal class action lawsuit seeking the freedom to marry for all couples in Virginia and an end to Virginia's law denying legal respect to marriages performed between same-sex couples outside of Virginia.
  • The lead plaintiffs are Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Staunton, VA and Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd of Winchester, VA. The case seeks to represent all same-sex couples across Virginia who wish to marry or have their marriages from outside of Virginia respected in their home state.

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