A day after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review rulings allowing same-sex marriage in five states, a federal appeals court in San Francisco today overturned bans in two more states, Idaho and Nevada.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled the Idaho and Nevada laws violated the constitutional guarantee of equal treatment by discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.
Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt, the author of the ruling, said the state bans on same-sex marriage “impose profound legal, financial, social and psychic harms on numerous citizens of those states.”
“Classifying some families, and especially their children, as of lesser value should be repugnant to all those in this nation who profess to believe in ‘family values,'” Reinhardt wrote for the court.
In the Idaho case, the panel upheld a federal trial judge’s ruling striking down the state law, while in the Nevada appeal, it overturned a trial court decision that had affirmed that state’s law.
The 9th Circuit decision came one day after the Supreme Court on Monday refused without comment to hear appeals of rulings in which three other regional federal appeals courts — the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Virginia, the 7th Circuit in Chicago and the 10th Circuit in Denver – overturned gay marriage bans in five states.
Because the other circuit court rulings are now final and binding on all states in those regions, they have the effect of overturning the bans in six more states in those circuits.
Including those states, Idaho and Nevada, there are now 32 states where same-sex marriage is legal, according to Shannon Minter, a lawyer with the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco.
If the 9th Circuit ruling survives a possible further appeal to the Supreme Court, it will result in invalidation of bans in three other western states in the circuit – Alaska, Arizona and Montana – and will bring the number of gay marriage states to 35.
“The past few days have been transformative,” said Minter, who was one of several lawyers representing couples in the Idaho case.
“There is now marriage equality in a substantial majority of states. That is a sea change. There is no turning back,” Minter said.
Minter said he believes the Supreme Court “knew exactly what it was doing” in clearing the path for such a change when it denied hearings in the other cases on Monday.
In today’s decision, the 9th Circuit panel did not directly discuss the high court action, but briefly cited the now-final 4th, 7th and 10th Circuit rulings, among other cases, as precedents for its decision.
Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter issued a statement saying the decision was “disappointing but not unexpected.” He said he and other state officials have not yet decided whether to appeal to the Supreme Court.
The 9th Circuit, which has jurisdiction over nine western states, previously ruled on same-sex marriage in a 2012 decision by Reinhardt striking down California’s Proposition 8 ban.
But that decision was taken off the books when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that Proposition 8 supporters had no standing to appeal. The high court action had the effect of reinstating a trial court decision that allowed same-sex marriages in California.
Julia Cheever, Bay City News